We’ve seen it before with The Blair Witch Project; a horror flick, made on a shoestring budget, becomes a sleeper hit and ultimately warrants itself a sequel. The “Holywoodized” sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 turned out to be a lame attempt to recapture the lightning of its predecessor and thus was pandered by critics and movie-goers. Paranormal Activity 2 isn’t nearly as bad as Blair Witch’s sequel, but it doesn’t live up to the level of Paranormal Activity either.
And the reason for that is simple: We’ve basically seen it all before.
Welcome the Rey family: Mom Kristi (Sprague Grayden), dad Daniel (Brian Boland), teenaged daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) and newborn Hunter (William and Jackson Prietro). They’re a seemingly carefree family, but after a suspected break-in and ransacking of their home, dad determines the installation of closed circuit security cameras in and out of the house will deter and/or identify those responsible should they come again.
For the first hour or so of Paranormal Activity 2, there isn’t much in the way of scares or thrills. The family dog barks at an unknown presence. Pots and pans inexplicably crash. Doors seemingly slam shut on their own. As the viewer, you know what is going on, but there is hardly anything to raise an eyebrow to (except, perhaps, the father’s unbelievable skepticism). That all changes in the second half of the movie when Ali, determined to uncover the root of unrest (she initially thinks the haunting is cool), arms up with the handheld camera used to capture family events and catches some of the activity herself. What is uncovered is one pissed off entity with an agenda (but you knew that).
So there you have it, one of the main differentiators between original and sequel is director Tod Williams changes the perspective — flipping between grainy fixed security cams and a semi-jerky color handheld camcorder. The multiple fixed cameras allow phenomenon to occur in more places throughout the house. In capturing more of the action as it happens with the handheld (as opposed to after the fact), he guarantees more thrills and jump scares; it keeps the audience rooted firmly in the moment. As a result though, the goosebumps and build-up anxiety from not knowing what to expect next are mostly gone. Also gone is the character investment — in the first film, I empathized with Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) even though I questioned a great many of their responses. Here not so much — this family felt like they were written into the film to be haunted not to be related with (even though a concerted effort to stuff a back story in was made).
Writer Michael R. Perry, however, does a fine job relating this prequel of sorts to the original flick.
I can’t see Paranormal Activity 2 not doing well at the box office. It was purposely released a week early so as to not compete with Saw 3D and the legion of fans of the first film will surely enjoy the comforting creepiness this installment affords them. I should also think this take has enough retread in it to give those who missed the boat to see Paranormal Activity in theaters a taste of why it was so well received.