After the monster success of last year’s Paranormal Activity, the supposed “Scariest Film of all time”, I suppose a sequel was inevitable. But as we saw with John Carpenter’s Halloween or James Wan’s Saw, a low budget, independent film can quickly be mugged of all its dignity by Hollywood as soon as they get their claws in and make it the new cash cow. So, I was slightly cagey in deciding to go see Paranormal Activity 2 since I thoroughly enjoyed the first.
Despite being marketed as a sequel, Paranormal Activity 2 is actually a prequel to the original film, set a few months before following Kristi – older sister of Katie from the first film – and her family as they fall victim to increasing violent paranormal activity that centres around their baby son, Hunter. It follows the same basic formula as the first; the family set up video cameras around the house to catch the spooky goings on as the film cuts from daytime, and the family going about their daily lives, to the night-time antics of the spirit that now calls their home, its home. However while the first relied on more understated chills that slowly built up to the films climax, it strikes me that the sequel does this nowhere near as well. The previous film had superb pacing and did phenomenally well at building a sense of tension with moments either fantastically subtle, such as the bed covers slowly moving, to the outlandishly terrifying, with Katie screaming whilst being dragged from her bed by some unseen force. Paranormal Activity 2 starts slow, spending too much time with the family, before you are thrown very quickly into the more exaggerated paranormal acts during the second half of the film. Only a few scenes showcase the more subtle scares, such as the baby’s mobile slowly turning by itself. Films about spirits and ghosts excel when they affect you on a psychological level, not when they are trying to get you jumping out your seat at some horribly forced scare. While some paranormal activity towards the end gets to a scale never reached by the first film, and risks falling into the forced jumpscare category, some actually worked. These scenes were shot using a handheld camera meaning that the viewer is never given a full view of the unfolding horrors. This technique adds a beleivable and gritty effect to the film, which is extremely commendable.
All in all Paranormal Activity 2 is a strong sequel and ties together the two films very nicely and neatly. Although not as creepy as its predecessor, it’s still a satisfying watch. How scared you get will depend a lot on your own convictions about the nature of the paranormal.
Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t cover any new ground, it merely attempts to build on the original’s quality. I find myself saying the old mantra, less is more. I would say one more sequel is the limit. After that the franchise should be left alone. It would be a shame if another wonderfully made, low budget, independent film fell into the addled mess that most Hollywood horror franchises find themselves in. As long as we don’t get ‘Paranormal Activity 4’, ‘5’, ‘Requiem’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘3D’ and ‘Vs Poltergiest’ tainting the series, like Halloween or Saw, I’m sure these two films will be considered modern horror classics, a satisfactory duology that provide good scares, good tension and a much fresher take on the horror genre than what we are used to from the current Hollywood cycle, churning out gore fests and remakes at every opportunity.