What does it mean when things go bump in the night? This was a question that was redefined with 2009’s unforseen hit Paranormal Activity, a movie that literally came out of nowhere and scared up a record breaking amount of money for a horror film.
Of course, due to the indie film’s success and the predictability of a Hollywood system based on box office returns, a sequel was imminent. The question that needs to be answered this go around is obvious: how does the sequel hold up?
Firstly, allow me to offer up a disclaimer. If you did not enjoy the first Paranormal Activity, there is no need for you to see this movie as they are heavily tied together. This said, the film is a spectacular piece of horror fiction and it stands as proof that sequels can (successfully) build off the original while keeping it in the same ballpark.
The scares are well crafted, the suspense is well placed and, much like the first film, it leaves you with an intense feeling of dread by film’s end.
At the beginning of the film, it’s established that Paranormal Activity 2 (PA2) takes place before the events of the first film. However, it eventually eclipses the timeline of the first movie, which makes it more of a quasi-prequel instead of a straightforward sequel.
This is where the difference in directing styles between Oren Peli (director of the original) and Tod Williams comes into play; while Peli made the film painfully suspenseful before delivering his climax, Williams has taken a more laid-back approach which allows for smaller scares that lead up to larger ones.
Thankfully, Williams kept the low-budget tone of the original intact, since what made the original so effective was how realistic it was; this, no doubt, was a result of the heavy use of practical effects in the first film.
PA2 takes the homemade feel a step further, however, employing methods that make the film horrifyingly magical and haunting (take Katie getting dragged out of bed in the first film and multiply that by twenty).
These moments are the ones that nightmares are made of and it seems that Peli, who produced the sequel, and Williams are more than aware of it; this allows them to deliver a product that makes you want to cuddle something for an indefinite amount of time.
The only problem I have with the film – other than not being able to sleep due to movie induced paranoia – is the de-mystification of the first film. In PA2, the filmmakers have decided to make the events of the original Paranormal Activity a direct result of what happens in the sequel.
I feel like much of the scare factor in the original came from the fact that there was no reason why the horrifying events were happening to Micah and Katie, but with the sequel, there is no longer any question as to why the first film happened. This isn’t a huge problem for PA2, but this particular addition to the mythos just didn’t tickle my fancy very much.
In the end, Paranormal Activity 2 is a spot-on sequel with a purpose: to scare you right out of your seat.
Thankfully, Peli and Williams were on the same page with fans of the original as they successfully sought out to create a film that is sleek, effective, hair-raising and will stick with you like white on rice much like the first film in the series. Just in time for Halloween, PA2 will make you wince at things that go bump in the night all over again.