Although the first ten minutes or so feels like needless filler, this sequel to the surprise horror hit of 2009 is ultimately terrifying, sending a surprisingly literal shiver down my spine. It is the rare follow-up movie that manages to incorporate details of the earlier movie without shoehorning them in artificially. It is every bit as suspenseful as you should expect it to be.
The events in this film concern the sister of the protagonist, Katie, from the first film, but it’s not like a retread of the same events, whereupon A New Family moves into the same haunted house and has just about the same crap happen to them. For this one, most of the events take place before those in the original – making it somewhat of a prequel – with scenes at the end overlapping some in the original as well.
The film begins with Kristi and Dan bringing home their newborn, Hunter, while they’re visited by Katie and Micah from the first film; also in attendance is Dan’s stepdaughter Alli. After the cute-kid-with-an-adoring-family scene has been set, the family suffers an odd burglary, in which nothing is taken except for an old necklace given by Katie to her sister Kristi. This prompts Dan to set up a series of security cameras.
As with the first film, strange things are quickly afoot – loud noises, pots falling off racks, doors closing of their own accord. The family’s nanny, Martine, believes that evil spirits are to blame, and she attempts to cleanse the house. Naturally, the more pragmatic Dan doesn’t buy into this mumbo jumbo, and puts a stop to her efforts. And yet the weirdness continues and even escalates.
The movie is shot in the same manne as in the original film; that is, using handheld video cameras and those omnipresent security cameras to depict not only what the family is feeling but what’s happening when they’re not around. Many of the disturbances seem to center on Hunter, who by now is several months old. The family’s German Shepherd, Abby, seems to sense that something’s amiss in Hunter’s room, but she’s powerless to stop it.
As some of you may know, I have seen a few movies. In fact, I have seen a few horror movies, or at least ones that purport to be scary. Many of them aren’t, and the more you see, the more jaded you become to them. In slasher pics, for example, you already know when the nubile teen is about to get hacked in half; you’re more focused on the actual gore than any terrorizing. You munch your popcorn and gleefully watch blood spatter against the wall. Even suspenseful films often shoot themselves by either showing not enough suspense leading to a horrific moment – or showing way too much of it, causing the audience’s mind to wander. It’s all timing.
What made Paranormal Activity so incredibly terrifying to me wasn’t just that things happened with sudden, visceral intensity. After all, having seen the original movie, I expected these things to happen. It was that those scenes were terrifying even though I expected them. Really tough to top that.
I won’t lay out all of the HOLY CRAP scenes for you, but here’s an example. Kristi is in the kitchen. It’s the middle of the afternoon. No one else is home. She’s sitting at the table, reading a magazine and sipping coffee – and this is after weird stuff’s been happening. And then – BAM! All of the cabinet drawers and doors open, simultaneously. If you were sipping your own beverage in the theater at that time… well, you weren’t anymore.
Paranormal 2 fills in some of the background surrounding its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. If you recall, Katie had been experiencing weird occurrences for quite some time and even speculated that her childhood had had something to do with it. That angle is explored a little more in #2, but not to the extent where everything is solved and everyone has a happy ending.
In fact, that’s the best part about this. The end of the first one was such a kick in the stomach, with a realistic open ending. The end of the second one is the same result achieved through different means; that is, we think we know more about why all of this is happening and has happened to these two families, but we have no clue whatsoever what the big picture is or where it’s all leading. And because it’s all shot using those amateur cameras, it really hits close to home. The house could be your house. Those people could be you. That could be your child and your dog.
Watching this movie is what I imagine it would feel like to watch someone’s home movies and discovering a snuff film. There’s no aura of artificiality, no hint of contrived messes, nothing that would make you think that this stuff isn’t actually happening to these people. The ending is not to be missed – complete, abject, unresolved, eviscerating terror.
Paranormal Activity 2: ***1/2