Retro Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010){0}

One doesn’t look at a nifty-yet-slight little horror flick like Paranormal Activity and think “definite sequel potential.” As one of those “found footage” gimmick movies, it works surprisingly well. It’s a clever little slow-burn indie chiller, which made it no surprise when Paramount picked up the $20,000 movie, primed their hype machine, and delivered it to an audience worth over 100 million bucks. When you take all that into account, it’s no surprise at all to see a film calledParanormal Activity 2 hitting the screens precisely one calendar year after Part One. (Hell, that’s less time than it took for the original flick to go from its Slamdance premiere to its theatrical release!)

What is a surprise, at least to yours truly, is that Paranormal Activity 2 is actually pretty damn solid! It’s no secret that the follow-up was sort of a “rush job,” which is certainly nothing new in the horror flick business, but generally the “strike while the iron’s hot” sequels are undercooked at best, and downright miserable at worst. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Blair Witch 2.) It probably helps that the producers went to a solid (if not very prolific) director in Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor), but fair praise is due to first-time screenwriter Michael R. Perry (he’s done a lot of television) for finding a way to “copy” the first flick while also adding a few nice wrinkles to its scant-yet-creepy mythology.

In lieu of a thorough plot synopsis, which none of us need, let’s just say that PA2 is about a mom, a dad, a teenage daughter, a baby, and a dog who are visited by … disturbing things. We know this (as do they) because of the half-dozen security cameras planted throughout the house. (It’s a cool trick for a movie like this, but it’s safe to say that security camera cinematography is not going to replace human DPs any time soon.) Occasionally the perspective will switch to that of a hand-held camera, which works in many scenes, but does make one wonder why, for example, a young girl would instantly reach for her video camera when she hears a muffled thump in the night.

But Paranormal Activity 2 is actually quite a bit cleverer than it needs to be. For example, it capably intertwines the characters from Part 1, it adds a few components that bring new dimension to the first flick, and it presents a completely different family (something new) in a very familiar plight (which is what we want from sequels in the first place). If Paranormal Activity 2 is required to spin its wheels a little bit in Act II — because if the shit hits the fan too early you’re stuck with a 62-minute movie — that’s just another bit of the formula that’s left over from the first movie.

Leads Brian Boland and Sprague Grayden provide a quietly empathetic lead couple, playing it low-key and likeable through all the security cameras and digital hand-helds, and young Molly Ephraim is really quite excellent throughout. (Even when asked to dole out chunks of exposition, as in a clunky poolside scene, she’s very natural and charming.) As far as the real horror goes, PA2 relies a bit too heavily on the SUDDEN LOUD BANG in the early going, but it earns some really nice chills as well, especially once we hit the big finale.

Ultimately, Paranormal Activity seems doomed to be remembered as one of those “not as good as the hype” horror movies, when it should actually be recalled as a “man, how’d they pull that off for no money?” sort of experiments. With the novelty of the indie sheen now gone, the sequel seems likely to be dismissed as more of the same, which is kind of a shame; it’s actually a pretty tight slow-burn horror sequel — and in the world of horror sequels, “pretty good” is usually cause for celebration.