Director: Tod Williams
Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Screenplay: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst
91 mins. Rated R for some language and brief violent material.
The gimmick of found footage horror films discovered quite a resurgence in the late 2000s with the original Paranormal Activity, a film made on a shoestring budget sold as real footage, using unknown actors and a simple shooting style that gave the film an interesting visual aesthetic. That film was so incredibly successful (and how could it not, with a miniscule budget; almost any win is a huge win) that of course Paramount would push forward on a sequel. The studio, which hated its association with the Friday the 13th films back in the 80s, found a new franchise to add to its struggling catalogue, and a small time later, Paranormal Activity 2 was released. I liked Paranormal Activity, but I had no interest in a repeat of the events of the original with a new group of unsuspecting characters facing a new haunting. I was finally pushed into it by a friend and colleague who, while not a huge fan of horror, was blown away by it. It’s been ten years since I first saw Paranormal Activity 2, and its about time I shared my thoughts on it.
Paranormal Activity 2 is the story of the Rey family. The mother, Kristi (Sprague Grayden, Samir, TV’s Jericho) is actually the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston, Psychic Experiment, TV’s Solace for the Undead) from the first film, and we also learn that a bulk of the events from this sequel are actually set before the events of Paranormal Activity. After a suspected burglary at the home of Kristi and husband Daniel (Brian Boland, The Unborn, Surprise Me!), security cameras are set up to protect from future issues. What is captured on those cameras over a series of nights showcase a far different problem: strange and unexplained events are occurring at the Rey home. As the family struggles to understand what is happening to them, a localized presence within the home has set its sights on infant Hunter, and it is determined to have him.
Prequels are a tough nut to crack in storytelling. You have to find a way to make events interesting even when the audience knows all or part of what is going to happen. Paranormal Activity 2, being a prequel/sequel hybrid that focused more on the events before the original film, succeeds quite well at expanding the mythology, focusing on areas that we don’t have a lot of understanding, and driving the narrative ever-so-slightly forward (my biggest criticism of the story is that we don’t really learn much more about what happened after the original film ended). In bulking up the original film’s somewhat weak mythology with a lot of detail and interesting revelations, PA2 becomes a much better story in the process.
The acting of the main cast is neither memorable nor is it poor enough to drag one out of the film. The strongest performance comes from Molly Ephraim (The Front Runner, TV’s Last Man Standing) as Daniel’s daughter Ali, a character who I found to be quite annoying at the film’s beginning until she becomes a more accessible conduit for the emotional core of the audience. As the evil presence makes itself more known in the film, we begin to see her putting the pieces together and search for answers and try to save her family. Even the work of Featherston and Micah Sloat are a little less wooden this time around.
There’s also the effects work to consider. While the first film was done on a shoestring budget, this sequel gets a bit of a bump that goes to making the haunting a little bigger without forcing it. The idea that bigger is better in sequels or follow-ups is foolish and leads to a place where spectacle trumps story and character, but in this film I found that it was not overly bigger. There’s some great scares in the film that ride that line of jump scare aided by mood and tone, and it mostly works. I found myself jumping far more often this time around.
Paranormal Activity 2 does not reinvent the found footage wheel in the way that the first film did. It’s a similar film, but its also a better film, with a stronger story, more interesting characters, higher stakes, and a more captivating mythology. If you didn’t at least like the original film, I can’t see this pre-sequel doing much to sway you, but this one is a follow-up that makes the original better, improving on it in every possible way. It certainly won me over.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, click here.
For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.