As many may know, a certain little horror franchise recently released it’s fourth film, Paranormal Activity 4. I was a huge advocate of the first film and like any ongoing franchise, a marathon of each entry is a must. Take a look back at Paranormal Activity 2 with me and see if it withstands the test of horror time or if Paranormal Activity was just a one-time gimmick.
When I first saw Paranormal Activity 2, upon its release in 2010, I thought it was pretty good. I love the parallel/prequel timeline aspect of the film, which I felt made this sequel worth while compared to most horror sequels – Saw IV did this really well. But unfortunately, looking back, that is the only thing that PA2 has going for it. All of the great chilling tension Oren Peli built in the original Paranormal Activity was stripped away by a terrible screenplay written by Michael Perry, Christopher Landon, and Tom Pabst.
We are first introduced to a different family, the Reys, video recording events of a newborn coming into their lives. They are your typical, happy, horror family couple, Daniel (Brian Boland) and Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden) along with their dog, daughter, and newborn named Hunter. Their teenager, Ali (Molly Ephraim) is the daughter of Daniel from his first marriage.
As we get into the film, Ali continues to record precious moments with Hunter. To the audience’s surprise, Katie from the first Paranormal Activity, who is the sister of Kristi, shows up at the Rey’s doorstep happy as a clam. It is revealed that the events in the first film have not yet occurred, PA2 happens a little over a month before PA.
The reason for recording these moments of Hunter works within the found footage genre, but eventually the movie turns into a ghost/demon hunt that makes most of the recording feel randomly unwarranted – because why not pick up the camera to just shoot someone talking about nothing? Not a single moment is explained why they switch from capturing moments of Hunter to documenting the paranormal activity.
Along with the handycam footage, the family installs security cameras all throughout the house after a recent break-in. Low and behold, the one who broke-in may have already been inside the house to begin with… ooh spooky. Inviting this element is smart because we can see more of the house at all times, but it also makes the film less personal.
Like the first film, we are given a great establishment of place and we understand the layout of the house very easily. The handycam establishes the basement and other parts of the house where the security cameras cannot reach – the security cameras give us a clear view of the common rooms and Hunter’s room.
Another problem with adding the security cameras is that this franchise has now found a way to incorporate everyone’s favorite children’s book, Where’s Waldo? It wasn’t as obvious in the first film because we didn’t quite know what to expect, but now if a security camera stops in a room for a longer amount of time than the others, we know our eyes must hunt for the object that is going to move at any moment.
There is a little more back-story behind Katie and Kristi’s ghoulish childhood past. All of this is laid out in the beginning of the film, and after we are introduced to everyone we rarely receive any more exposition that could beef up the mythology of the franchise. A lot of the movie contains plot points we already know from the first film; binding material to connect both films. The biggest things to note in the film are that the birth of Hunter has great significance to the demon and we find out how exactly it jumps from Kristi to Katie.
Continuing under the belief that this footage was actually found – with another introduction to thank the families involved who allowed the releasing of this footage – is kind of funny for this film. They try to play this off as real when they do not use the first names of the actors involved, unlike the first film. And they actually use film credits in the end. I don’t know why the filmmakers decided to continue with this direction when we all know it’s fake.
With a new family comes new character establishment, which Paranormal Activity 2 lacks dramatically. Micah and Katie’s personalities were very well developed in PA, but here everyone is flat and we do not have anyone to really root for. The acting was fine, but by adding the security cameras, there is a struggle to determine who is actually the main character. You could blame the writing again for not really fleshing out these characters.
The audience was able to get behind Micah in PA because he was the cameraman, we could look through his perspective of the story. With PA2, there is a lack of emotional depth because we are bouncing from security camera to security camera and then switching to handycam once in awhile. We are left with many disconnected moments with each family member because of this.
Creating authenticity is nice, but whenever we are looking through the perspective of the security cameras, the film is very gritty. It is unappealing to look at, especially when we must look at it for long, daunting periods of time. Even on the blu-ray, it is very gritty. The picture quality in the first was better. With a considerably larger budget, $3 million compared to $15,000, it’s a little funny that the film quality is worse.
What the audience really wants from these films are the scares, and PA2 delivers some great scares that are built up from the expectations of the first film. The effects are just as terrific with the amount of budget they had to work with. But with the good scares comes weak tension. Nothing really builds up to a solid ending, which is very anti-climatic and frustrating.
Paranormal Activity 2 is not the worst horror sequel out there, but it is definitely not the best. With empty characters and a willingness to ask more questions than to answer them, this film struggles to get past surviving just on jump scares alone.