Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Diminshing Returns: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) Review

There is a pretty simple rule of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels. In theory, an original film has the potential to appeal to everyone. A sequel, however, usually only has the potential to appeal to the select group of people who liked the original. As each sequel is created the potential audience continues to get smaller and smaller, until you end up with a franchise full stop like I Will Always Know What You Did Last Summer; a movie that no one cares about and only bears a passing resemblance to the original movie that spawned it. Paranormal Activity 2 is, like so many other sequels, the first step towards making the "Paranormal Activity" name something that no one cares about and has little to do with the impressive original.

Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel, of sorts, commencing its story approximately six months prior to the events depicted in the original movie. This time around the focus is on Katie's sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), and her family. One evening they come home to find their home completely trashed. So, in a knee jerk reaction, Dad (Brian Boland) decides to get a security company to come in and install security cameras all throughout the house. Whilst this is clearly a contrivance designed to free the movie's writer from having to have his characters constantly filming everything themselves, I have to concede that it’s a clever idea, by sequel standards, and helps make Paranormal Activity 2 one of those rare sequels that manage to do something a little different but are still respectful of the original.

What ensues, of course, are a series of bump-in-the-night scares similar to what we got in the original, as the paranormal entity increasingly makes its presence felt. Again, all revealed in the "found footage". The movie eventually catches up to the time of the original movie and passes it providing a brief glimpse of what happened after the events of the original.

"Seriously, like, Auntie Katie is, like, totally, a total spaz."

Whilst I was impressed by the inventiveness of the story and the way it was told, Paranormal Activity 2 didn't have me on the edge of my seat quite like the original. The same "Day X" subtitles are used to chronicle the events in a linear fashion but, unlike the original, Paranormal Activity 2 often chronicles days were literally nothing happens. There can be a fine line between building suspense and boring your audience and, in my frequently ignored opinion, this movie leaves the audience waiting too long too often for it to be really effective.

The other thing that bugged me a little was the way in which the security camera footage was edited together. Whenever the paranormal entity made a bump in the night we would see or, more accurately, hear it from the point of view of a security camera that was not in the room that the activity occurred in. The editor would then cut to the security camera in the room where the activity had just occurred giving us a glimpse of the spooky aftermath. So, the question has to be asked; why didn't the editor just include the footage from the room that the activity occurred in? All the cameras are running all the time, after all. The answer, of course, is because the editor is making a horror movie, not really presenting us with raw "found footage". If the movie had been more effective I’d be more forgiving of this particular contrivance, but after watching long periods of nothing I found this conceit (of featuring the wrong camera at the wrong time) taking me out of the moment on a number occasions.

Paranormal Activity 2 has a surprisingly solid story and some effective moments, making it an above average sequel. But, fans of the original approaching this movie in dark coloured underwear, hoping to have the crap scared out of them again, are likely to be somewhat disappointed by its comparative lack of intensity. Of course, that disappointment is unlikely to stop Paramount continuing to trot out sequels until every last fan of the original has lost interest.

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