Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tod Williams

Cast: Sprague Graden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Vivis, Micah Sloat

MPAA Rating: R (for some language and brief violent material)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 10/22/2010

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 22, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 does everything we expect it would, and therein is part of the problem. Taking the same haunted house premise and mixing the handheld vérité aesthetic of the first film with the static, wide-shot look of a reality show's spy-cam, the sequel plays all the same notes as its predecessor. It is a movie that relies entirely on riding the coattails of the first film, and by the climax, the narrative comes as close to a literal interpretation of that idiom as one could manage without the presence of a jacket.

Fortunately for director Tod Williams, the setup and concept of execution are solid, so the movie still produces occasional chills upon the flesh.  Equal to or surpassing them, though, are laughs of familiarity and snorts of recognizing inferiority. The simple fact is the movie was done better the first time around.

The story leaps right into the fray (after the studio thanks the "families" of the "subjects" and the "police" for their cooperation in providing the "found footage") with Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Daniel (Brian Boland) moving into a nice, big, new home in California. Along with them are their newborn baby Hunter and Daniel's daughter from his first marriage Allie (Molly Ephraim).

Jumping ahead a year, we learn that Kristi is sister to Katie (Katie Featherston), the woman who will be haunted by a demonic spirit as depicted in the original. Freaky things begin to happen, and Kristi and Katie cannot help remember their own childhood of séances and house fires. Daniel, meanwhile, thinks it's simply burglars and fires their religious maid (Vivis) for being the first to jump to the conclusion that the house is haunted.

The screenplay (credited to, shockingly enough, a trio of writers (Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, and Tom Pabst)) spends hardly any time on these characters except in the gradual revelation of their relationships to each other. Instead, the script falls back on a lazy, roundabout origin story of the demonic presence or—more specifically—how that evil spirit ended up messing with Katie and her boyfriend (Micah Sloat) in the first place.

The night vision scenes return again, with a clock in the lower right frame ticking away the minutes and seconds, and this time, there's more than one camera. If you count the handheld one that Allie becomes so fond of while she wonders the house at night, there are seven in total, each placed strategically throughout the house.

The expanded coverage does little for the movie's main draw, as the sense of claustrophobia in knowing that the characters' perspective and our own are the same. They and we might hear something (in particular a predictable low-end rumble on the soundtrack when the evil is lurking), but there's no way of knowing without some investigating (and there's a lot of useless investigating in this one). Now, if there's a crash, it's simply a matter of seeing what fell in the kitchen on camera three (and scanning like a game of "I spy" for what the spirit will manipulate next). Of course, Williams employs some selective editing, ensuring that there's not too much shown (an inherently deceitful technique, considering the conceit of the movie's origin as a found document).

Doors open and close without anyone touching them, a baby and woman are pulled by the leg, something taps on, smashes into, or breaks windows, and on and on the cheap parlor tricks of Paranormal Activity 2 go, and none of them approach the ingenuity of the ones in the first film. It's less a question of how the crew pulled them off than as to why even bother.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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