If you want to be surprised by ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ then you should probably stop reading this review. When you’ve seen it (and you will; this thing is going to be a big hit), come back to this review, read what’s after the jump, and then comment away to your heart’s desire. Until then, I can just tell you that I really, really liked ‘Paranormal Activity 2.’ In fact, it scared me silly. And I saw it in an empty screening room! I can only imagine how the untold hordes coming to the theater this weekend will react. Boo!
I really didn’t know much about ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ going into it. I knew there was a tussle over this weekend’s release date between it and ‘Saw 3D’. (‘Saw 3D’ blinked and will be released next weekend.) It was directed by the guy who did ‘Door in the Floor’, and was overseen by the original film’s creators. Beyond that… nothing. Which made the movie even more of a surprise. What’s kind of amazing is that it’s a sequel/prequel/concurrent story that takes place around the same time frame of the first film, and shares some of the same characters. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about it. I was shocked that the filmmakers were able to deepen the story (and the mystery) of the first movie while expanding it exponentially.
And this one really is spooky.
By now you know the set-up: it’s a haunted house movie captured with the “found footage” conceit. In the first film, a young couple was menaced by a vindictive spirit, so the boyfriend set up a video camera to capture some of the action. In this one, the footage is split over two platforms. One is a host of security cameras spread across a McMansion in sunny California. The other is just a simple family handicam that’s being used because a young child is in the house and they want to capture the baby’s every movement. (Because that’s what parents do.) I mean, if you start thinking about this for two minutes, you understand the inherent technical fallacy of this. Security cameras DON’T RECORD SOUND. Unless there is a camera with a long, phallic microphone attached to it.
But I digress…
Like the first film, this is less about seeing the bogeyman than watching the edges of these expertly mundane frames. Shadows seem to creep a little longer, the family German shepherd growls at nothing, and the baby is seen crying for no good reason. (Really, there’s nothing more appetizing to a malevolent ghoul than the supple young soul of a baby.) The tension is sustained throughout a number of scenes where virtually nothing happens. This is a clear testament to both the returning creative principles as well as new director Tod Williams. It’s just an incredible amount of fun to watch the film while trying to figure out what will happen next. Where will the next sound occur, or which light fixture will pop at any moment?
The sequel is different than the first in a few key ways, which I’m hesitant to discuss until people have seen it. There’s a fair amount of winking satire in this film, which I think enriches it in some great ways. Let me just say that there’s a reason this movie is set in 2006. One of the main characters, while in the midst of a supernatural clusterfuck, quotes George W. Bush…
As far as I’m concerned, ‘Paranormal Activity’ is shaping up to be the greatest horror franchise in recent memory (at last since the heyday of the ‘Final Destination‘ movies). It’s so refreshing to watch a horror flick that places human drama first and foremost, and relies on actual scariness, mood and atmosphere to convey terror instead of just buckets of blood or elaborate torture porn nonsense. Since ‘Let Me In‘ is already out of most multiplexes, this is for sure the horror film to see. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll giggle, and you’ll wet your pants. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.