Paranormal Activity 2 – film review

Do you like scary movies?

Horror is a genre that has mutated and evolved over the years, and its nemeses have done likewise.  Seemingly each generation’s worst cinematic nightmare becomes camp harmless farce before long – Freddy Krueger haunted many a teenaged sleepless night but before a decade passed he was plastered over lunchboxes and kids could buy novelty “knife gloves” from a joke shop.  Dracula, Frankenstein, Jason, even Jigsaw – it seems that if you give horror a face inevitably someone will poke it in the eye, mass-produce a latex mask, and go out trick-or-treating.

Last year’s Paranormal Activity was a film that languished on a shelf for some time before it was eventually released.  Hollywood executives struggled to sell the appeal of a horror film without any iconic antagonist until the game-changing “Demand It!” advertising campaign very cleverly exploited footage of audience reactions rather than from the film itself. Upon release it was a box office sensation, obliterating the competition, and becoming one of the most profitable films of all time.  A sequel was inevitable, but the creative team were presented with the challenge of making a familiar follow-up without the benefit of a recognisable scary monster that could be resurrected.

After all, 1999’s Blair Witch Project faced the same problem – if there’s nothing to see then how can you convince audiences to see it a 2nd time? In the Blair Witch’s case, the execrable Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 failed to do so, and a putative movie franchise was stopped dead before any further harm could be done.

The creative team behind Paranormal Activity 2 have been extremely clever in both the making and the marketing of their sequel and sidestepped this problem in their deft strides.  Sticking with the “less is more” ethos that gave the original film its eerie aura, pre-release information has been extremely hard to come by: the film’s trailer was little more than a number of static CCTV camera angles and no plot or cast was available, until Paramount eventually conceded that “Katie” was returning from the first film.  If you have seen PA1 then this knowledge in itself would be enough to fuel multitudinous theories or projections.

The film deserves to be seen unspoilt, so any further plot divulgence must be denied.

What you are allowed to know is that the viewer is a once again a silent voyeur in another Californian home; this time inhabited by a happily married affluent middle class couple with a teenage daughter, baby son, nanny and the pet dog Abby.  The film starts with the family documenting an apparent break-in, which spurs the father into installing a 6-camera home surveillance system…

Much like the 1st film, it is the mundane routine and the moments between the Moments that steadily build layer upon layer of cold-sweated dread.  The automated flickering between each camera introduces night after night with routine tedium, and as the tiniest of phenomena start to happen in the periphery of the fixed frame, the audience strains its eyes expectantly waiting to spot the differences from the night before like a nightmarish Where’s Waldo.

What is a revelation however is the fluidity & ease with which this sequel is integrated into the first film – a rare case of an expanded narrative adding more depth to the original film, and deftly setting the audience up for a concluding chapter in a trilogy.

Criticisms that were levelled at the original Paranormal Activity will have just as much currency this time round – people have said that its “just about the jump scares” and frankly if the first did nothing for you, this sequel will fail to change that – don’t worry, SAW 3D will no doubt be playing in the adjacent screen.  However, if after PA1 you had to leave the lights on when you slept, eyeing your loft door suspiciously, and spent the next week questioning every creak and groan that your home made; then rest assured, this film will make you anxious about being alone at any time at all.


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