Review: Paranormal Activity 2

After the success of Paranormal Activity there was always going to be a sequel. As we go back into the haunted house with another found-footage film, how does the latest hold up?

It was inevitable that Paranormal Activity would receive a sequel after it wowed audiences with its cheap but effective scares. The ‘found footage’ sub-genre of horror cinema is an exciting and popular concept for film producers and audiences alike thanks to its low budgetary requirements and simplistic thrills. Films such as REC and its American remake Quarantine are utilising the techniques established in The Macpherson Tapes, The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project to produce a brand of horror film that strikes a chord with audiences because of its haunting familiarity with our own home videos. Never has the genre so easily nestled its way under the skin with the sense that this could really happen than with the ‘found footage’ film.

Paranormal Activity 2 is interesting in that the events depicted in the film happen around the events of the first film. Although it is not necessary to have seen the original, a knowledge of the initial story does help in the appreciation of this one. The film begins with a couple welcoming a newborn baby boy into the family. The boy’s mother Kristi is the sister of Katie, the girl from the first film. A year passes and the family come home to find the house has been trashed but nothing stolen. They install a security system to monitor the house and, as in the first film, strange, paranormal events begin occurring.

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The film is definitely an effective thriller. A child staring off into space, ignoring his mother who is trying to gain his attention; a dog barking at the door; a pan falling from a rack in the kitchen; all innocuous in themselves but which manage to creep under the skin given the context of the events. Director Tod Williams uses the seemingly innocuous occurrence of a door slamming shut (of which father Daniel judges to be an unfortunate factor of the wind) to gradually build the tension before the big shocks come later. He also utilises the security system and family home video to maintain the pace, cutting between the two for dramatic effect. Certainly, the haphazard home video footage has an authenticity that heightens the horror, while Williams turns the suspense up a notch with some claustrophobic, uneven camerawork that gives the film an air of hysteria.

But it’s the security cameras that provide the most fun. Williams has us viewing them for long periods, enticing you to check every corner of the screen for something nasty. The beauty is that you never know where the paranormal activity is going to occur, let alone when or how.

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But a criticism I have levelled at ‘found footage’ films is that they can feel over-produced and fake. It was the fatal flaw of Cloverfield. Paranormal Activity 2 doesn’t suffer from this, indeed, it suffers from the exact opposite. Where the first film trumps its sequel is in how it put the events that were occurring into context – the strange fire at the sisters’ home, the long-lost photo found in the attic, the internet footage of a previous possession, Katie’s mysterious history with haunting and the paranormal investigator’s hasty escape. Paranormal Activity 2 only provides us with a cursory idea behind the family’s ordeal and falls down in trying to continue the story of the first film. As such, the open ending, which begs for another sequel, is a let down.

Yet, Paranormal Activity 2 still has plenty to please. Williams keeps the tension high and makes use of at least two great set-pieces that will have audiences jumping in their seats with mouths wide open. The film also motors along thanks to superb editing that is knowledgeable of the craft without detracting from the authentic effect of home video. Paranormal Activity 2 might not reach the thrilling heights of the original Oren Peli film but it is, nonetheless, one of the more effective ‘found footage’ horror films out there.

Top 10 Found Footage Horror Film

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Tod Williams
Written by: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst
Starring: Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Seth Ginsberg, Sprague Grayden, Micah Sloat
Released: 2010 / Genre: Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray
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This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    The first Paranormal Activity was both good and annoying (I didn’t like the dude in it) and although I wasn’t as “freaked out” by it as many other were, I gave it a shot. THIS film, however, seemed more straightforward in trying to make more use of something filmmakers call “a plot”, although I have yet to see it – great review, Dan. I will find time to watch this one day, just not while the wife is around.

  2. Avatar
    Dan O. Reply

    This one was a tad freakier than the first but I have to say the first is a lot better, but what really has me all hyped up is this third one which looks totally scary. Nice review man.

  3. Avatar
    Elissa Reply

    I actually liked this one a bit more than the first. I found the first one to be for the most part pretty boring. The few good scares were overshadowed by the really unlikable characters. Kristi and her family were much less annoying than Katie and Micah. But really I didn’t like either one enough to care about a third film.

    Nice review!

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    Sir Phobos Reply

    “Paranormal Activity 2 only provides us with a cursory idea behind the family’s ordeal and falls down in trying to continue the story of the first film.”

    When I watched this (the only time so far), my mouth was wide open the whole time. I was totally engaged with everything that was going on, and I still think it’s an awesome horror movie. But after talking with a friend about it, I have to concede some stuff.

    You said it gives us a cursory idea, but I’m forced to admit what little explanation that was given was pretty damn stupid. The whole thing about the first born child, blah blah….yea, it was more effective when I didn’t know the supposed lore. That was pointed out to me, and I had to give up that point. Still, I really love this one. It creeped me out pretty much the whole time.

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    TheVern Reply

    While the first one took it’s time with it’s characters and slowly built it’s way to that ending. P.A. 2 on the otherhand was rushing way too fast trying to squeeze one scare after another. This is how the whole movie was for me.

    Nothing’s Happening, nothing’s Happening. Wait, the parents are arguing. No it’s something stupid. Nothing’s Happening,nothing’s happening….BAMM BOOM CRASH. Camera shakes characters run away in fear. Nothing’s happening, nothing’s happening

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