Review: “Paranormal Activity 2.”

The IMDb page for Paranormal Activity 2 says its popularity rose 666% in the last week, and I’m certain the number isn’t a coincidence.  The original Paranormal Activity relied on word-of-mouth and viral campaigning, and this similarly freaky detail highlights the producer’s desire to provoke scares. By not making an off-the-wall misfire like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, PA2 deftly expands the universe of its predecessor. Succeeding more as an audience experience than a horror film, PA2 delivers exactly what it promises. It may lack the original’s inventiveness, but its gotcha scares are well-earned.

Sequels often have more than the original, and that’s certainly the case here. Instead of one camera in a bedroom, we now have seven cameras scattered throughout a house. After someone vandalizes a home without stealing, a concerned father installs the cameras as a security measure. With a combination of daytime and nighttime footage, we watch a haunting unravel a family.  There is an added level of terror when the demon focuses its attention on an infant and dog, both of whom are cute-but-not-too-cute.

In ways I won’t reveal, the audience gradually learns how, precisely, both movies weave together. By eschewing timelines of traditional sequels, screenwriters Michael R. Perry and Christopher B. Landon introduce dramatic layers that heighten unease. Director Tod Williams also adds suspense by employing admirable restraint. There are long sequences where nothing happens, and with a delayed payoff, Williams earns a few BIG moments instead of several small ones. Still, his scares are hardly original. Like checking items off a list, Williams rehashes everything that made Paranormal Activity unique (my favorite tactic, when the camera speeds up time, is rarely used here).  There is one notably unique scene where Williams jarringly introduces an ordinary element into the frame.  In a flash, the mostly comfortable audience flipped the fuck out.

In the dark theater, a woman next to me watched the first hour of Paranormal Activity 2 with a look of terror on her face. Her hands shielded her eyes, and she winced whenever it felt like something spooky would happen. As the movie reached its conclusion, she seemed more relaxed, which is to say Williams lost his stranglehold on her, and by extension, the audience. Similarly, other moviegoers transitioned from “Don’t go down there!” protests to justified complaints about PA2’s ending. Nothing can quite top the genuine terror of Katie and Micah’s descent into hell, but damn it, it would’ve been nice to see Williams and his screenwriters try.  After leaving the theater, the original Paranormal Activity maintained a sinister influence on my mood. While Paranormal Activity 2 works most of the time, its success is far more modest.