At The Movies: Paranormal Activity 2
(Long Island, N.Y.) Last year, I gushed endlessly about the original Paranormal Activity, a groundbreaking horror film directed by a guy named Oren Peli in the comfort of his own house. It was the story of a couple named Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), who were dealing with a haunting of sorts that turns out to actually be a demon.
The movie was from the point of view of Micah’s camcorder; during the day, he was one of those annoying types who liked to film whatever was going on around the house, but at night, he’d set up the camera to film the couple while they slept…and that’s when the creepy stuff would start to happen. And it would get worse and worse, night by night. By the end of the movie Katie, now possessed by the demon, murdered Micah and took off for parts unknown.
Director Peli hit a gold mine with Paranormal Activity; with no film-making experience and very little money, he nonetheless created a unique, gripping, and horrific movie that ending up becoming one of the most profitable films ever made (budget: $15,000, gross: 193 million, baby!). Based on the buzz it was generating, audiences demanded the indie film be given a wide release in theaters, and they flocked to see it based on word of mouth alone…a rare example of a flick made outside of the stale studio system that went on to achieve the success it so richly deserved.
Of course, once said studio system got its grubby little paws involved, you knew they would do everything they could to capitalize on Paranormal Activity’s fame, hence the inevitable sequel, titled…well, Paranormal Activity 2, of course. Peli declined to direct this one, instead taking a producer’s role and concentrating on his new movie, titled “Area 51” (man, I hope it’s good). Instead, Tod Williams took over directing duties, and for everyone wondering how it turned out, here’s the short answer: the first half pretty much sucks, but the second half suddenly gets great out of nowhere. That’s weird…usually, movies either start out strong and end on a weak note, or just suck and just go on sucking. I can’t remember the last time a movie pulled out of a tailspin like Paranormal Activity 2 does. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel and sequel all rolled up into one that deals with Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden…wait, Sprague? Huh?), her husband Dan (Brian Boland, who, as far as I know, is not the famed comic book artist of the
same name), daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and infant son, Hunter (played by two twins, but I don’t know their names…sorry!). As revealed in the first movie, Katie and her sister first had a run-in with the ol’ demon when they were kids, and now he’s back, ransacking the house and generally being a pain in the butt. Of course, Dan doesn’t believe in that supernatural bunk, so he installs a network of security cameras, which, of course, is how we the viewers experience the movie. In addition, we also get in more close and
personal via the family camcorder, which brings me to my major gripe with movies presented this way…who the heck bothers to film boring crap like dad talking to the security camera guys? I know, we need to see this to move
the plot along, but it’s just a weakness of the “found footage” genre as a whole; people do dumb stuff.
You might have noticed that I said the first half of the movie sucked. Well, it did, mainly because it starts out as a 100% carbon-copy of the first Paranormal Activity. Same progression- boring day scenes of the family acting like fools, followed by creepy night scenes where you’re frantically scanning every inch of the screen to look for that coffee cup that might be moving on its own or something. Paranormal activity was so effective because no one had really quite taken that approach before, but doing the same thing in the sequel just gave it that “been there, done that” feeling. It didn’t help that the daytime storyline footage appeared to be somewhat disjointed, rushed, and all-too dependent on having seen the original movie (although what sequel isn’t guilty of that?).
But halfway through, things get off the hook. The increased budget makes for some wackier stuff happening, but the film wisely makes sure it doesn’t go off the deep end and beyond the realm of believability. It’s just freaky, and it draws you in…especially with the way the demon appears to be focused on young Hunter. It just increases the sense of dread when a child is threatened, you know? And not just in a ‘wacko with a knife’ kinda way- here, it’s something far more vague, sinister, and evil. Having “Aunt Katie and Uncle Micah” show up to visit a few times is also
interesting, considering we already know their eventual fates.
the movie starts out with a disjointed narrative, the plot threads are slowly woven into a cohesive tapestry, effectively joining the first and second films. Explanations are given for some of the things that happen in the first Paranormal Activity, and the sequel leaves itself wide open for yet another installment. But in this case, Paranormal Activity is becoming a franchise I want to see more of, as long as great care is taken in how each movie ties in with the next. If they’re going to churn out more of these, I’d rather not see it turn into generic garbage like the Saw series.
Despite starting off pretty poorly, Paranormal Activity 2 ends up becoming a worthy sequel in the end. It’s a perfect movie for this Halloween. Go see it.