Baby’s first haunting – Paranormal Activity 2 review

Paranormal Activity 2 – Starring Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland and Katie Featherston. Directed by Tod Williams. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

The success – both artistic and commercial – of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity should have been impossible to recreate. Made on a miniscule budget of only $11,000, it eventually grossed over $190 million worldwide. As I noted in my review, it had been “one of the most enjoyable cinema-going experiences of my life”. The entire audience was entranced by the tale of Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston), a young couple tormented by an unstoppable demonic force. Most inspiring however was Peli’s cheeky filmmaking; here was a director that knew how to expertly tease and torment his audience, armed with only a cheap camera and a couple of actors he found via Craigslist. Surely this is the definition of lightning-in-a-bottle cinema.

That being said, Paranormal Activity 2 –directed by Tod Williams and produced by Peli – is a tremendous achievement. It’s the rare horror sequel that contributes to the first film’s established mythology and has an equal amount of scares. Despite its comparatively corporate origins – this time it was made by studio Paramount Pictures on a budget of $3 million – it feels just as organic and intimate as the previous instalment. In fact, it’s not just a good horror sequel, but a good sequel full stop. Much like the original (perhaps even more so than the original), it skillfully fondles the audience, inspiring both dread and giggles of fear, ending in a flurry of orgiastic terror. Inappropriate to compare the film to sex? What can I say? I really like these films.

Part of the elation that the Paranormal Activity films inspire comes from the way in which they continually surprise and scare us. You would have thought that in this post-“lets-watch-a-man-pull-iron-rods-out-of-his-body-for-10-minutes” age that nothing could make us flinch in a cinema ever again. The first film featured a camera set up at the foot of the bed, keeping a watchful, unblinking eye over a sleeping couple. Such a simple set-up, but it helped inspire fear in audience members who regularly shared a bed with someone else (particularly those of us whose partners have a penchant for sleep talking and sudden, somewhat unnerving, night-spasms). Paranormal Activity 2 attempts to stir a similar gut reaction in the audience; this time, the primary camera focuses on a baby sleeping peacefully in his crib. Parents – prepare thyself.

Paranormal Activity 2 takes place three months before the events of the first film, and focuses on the family of Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden), which includes her husband Daniel (Brian Boland), step-daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), maid Martine (Vivis) and German-shepherd Abby. The film begins with new mother Kristi returning home from the hospital with her baby Hunter – and as anyone who has ever had a new bub join the family already knows, it’s a perfect excuse to pull out the video camera and make plenty of home movies. After their house is broken into and trashed, Daniel decides to install security cameras around their entire compound (another nifty device that allows us to watch over the family at all times). Of course, we know that the break-in was not caused by some unruly hooligans, but instead the demon that has plagued Kristi and Katie since they were children. As the film progresses, the demon slowly, but surely, makes itself known to the family – as well as its dastardly motive (which shan’t be spoiled here).

The crafting of this film, if not impeccable, is damn impressive. It’s even more of a slow burn than the original, which must certainly make it an anomaly in the lineage of horror movie sequels. Screenwriters Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst have developed a story that adds to the series’ mythos, and perhaps will even inform future viewings of the first film. It’s also got a wicked sense of humour, and that is the real trademark of this saga. Peli, and now Williams, allow their camera to linger on seemingly empty frames for an inordinate amount of time until we cannot stand it any longer. We look for frightening things where there are none (“oh God, did that curtain just move?”), to the point that even the most minor of hauntings (such as a light flickering) can make us shiver in fear. They’re having a hell of a time with our emotions. The film eventually (inevitably) escalates into full blown horror, but by that point, it’s more than earned the right to. If the film’s ending is an anti-climax, it’s only because it’s enticed us with the possibility of another sequel. One that, believe it or not, I would welcome.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Paranormal Activity 2 is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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