As you’re reading this, The Hangover 2 is filming in Southeast Asia. This is because, for a sequel to work in Hollywood, it must go further, it must leave Kevin stranded in New York, or take the Griswald family to Europe or move to Havana to dance with not Patrick Swayze. Treading water is a great way to become irrelevant, but then again, so is betraying the source material with exhibitions of grandiosity. It’s all about taking the next logical step, which, yes, should be toward something bigger but not necessarily way bigger.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a little bigger, a little scarier and a little busier than its predecessor, but more importantly, it’s better. New director Tod Williams has taken Oren Peli’s winding, twisting first-person demon encounter and added a few more characters, creating a dual prequel/ sequel which not only offers clarity and backstory to the original but also a chilling vision of its own which celebrates and polishes more than imitates and muddles. There is, of course, something to be said for originality and getting there first, but in a side-by-side comparison, Paranormal Activity 2 is the better film across the board.
The story picks up a few years before the first one started. Original protagonist Katie’s (Katie Featherstone) sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) has just arrived home from the hospital with her husband Dan (Brian Bolden), step-daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) and newborn Hunter. Unfortunately, eerie happenings begin almost immediately. The house is ransacked, pots begin mysteriously falling and the pool cleaner somehow ends up on the deck every night. Frustrated and eager to appease his wife, Dan installs security cameras around the house but as in the first film, they end up documenting more than dissuading any demonic activities.
Soon the family’s Hispanic maid grows fed up with the commotion and decides to light incense all over the house to ward off the bad spirits. Dan catches her and she’s quickly fired, leading to a few babysitting misadventures between Ali and Hunter. Both women, like the maid, are convinced something is definitely amiss, but Dan’s deep-rooted rationality, along with Katie’s insistence that her sister and step-niece just let it go, prevents any exorcisms or medium rendezvous’. At least until the family dog seizures and Christi shows up with unexplained bruises and bite marks, leading to a clever, breakneck conclusion which not only brings resolution to Paranormal Activity 2 but actually bookends the original, further explaining exactly what happened to Micah and Katie and why.
Paranormal Activity 2 is not the best horror film you’ll see this year. Many of the same lingering problems of pacing plague the sequel/prequel too, but with an expanded cast of characters, they’re a lot less glaring. The family dog, particularly, is a welcome addition to the fold, providing an active, yet objective viewpoint to the hellish encounters. With less word of mouth buzz and no advance critic’s screenings, I suspect this film won’t have quite the lasting impact of the original, but that’s no fault of anyone involved here. Everything about Paranormal Activity has taken a small step forward. There’s now six or seven cameras instead of one, a baby that’s being tormented rather than a grown woman, and a second female protagonist to freak out at the poor, fatherly bastard trying to hold things together.
It would have been easy to throw money at special effects and glossy camera work, but to do so would have betrayed what the franchise is all-about. Paranormal Activity 2 shows restraint, and in doing so, is sure to please anyone who enjoyed the original. Crude sex tape jokes and all.