The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2"

Paranormal Activity 2
An infant is terrorized by an unseen demon in the much-anticipated sequel Paranormal Activity 2.

In order to really convey my feelings about Paranormal Activity 2, I need to tell you about my experience watching the original. I vividly recall hitting the 50-minute mark and feeling that my stomach was tied in knots. The continually escalating sense of dread played on my nerves, making me wish that I could have paused the projector, stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, then come back in to finish the film. Put more succinctly, it made me nuts, earning a spot on the (very) short list of movies to have genuinely scared me. By the 50-minute mark of this sequel, I was wondering when that sort of tension was going to kick in.

The filmmakers - including director Tod Williams, taking over for Oren Peli - deserve credit for trying to do something ambitious. Instead of merely throwing together a here-we-go-again story, they've actually made a prequel that weaves its plot into certain events from the original, and also allows for the return of stars Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. You see, the haunted this time is Katie's sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who was referenced in the first film. Kristi lives with her family, husband Daniel (Brian Boland), teenage stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and infant son Hunter. It's the baby who's most important here, as the strange goings-on suggest that the unseen demon wants him.

The premise of the original Paranormal Activity was that it consisted of "found footage" shot on a video camera. The couple set the camera up in their bedroom every night to capture the unexplained things that were taking place. This sequel has a little of that too - Ali starts documenting the proceedings - but adds footage from security cameras placed around the home after what appears to be a break-in. Security camera footage has always seemed spooky to me. There's a remove to it; you see people distantly casually moving about, unaware of the fact that a camera is tracking their every move. That's a fairly effective new element to the series.

It's also the only thing here you could really call new. Paranormal Activity 2 is largely content to dig into the same bag of freaky tricks that the first film perfected. Doors slam, loud crashing noises suddenly boom on the soundtrack, people go into weird trances, etc. There's a clever bit involving kitchen cabinetry, as well as a spooky incident with the baby in his crib. Beyond that, it's kind of distressing how willing the movie is to tread the same old ground. It even goes so far as to replicate one of the original's best money shots, albeit to much lesser effect. As a result, I never felt the same sort of stomach-turning dread that I experienced the first time around. Because I rarely get honest-to-goodness scared by movies, my feelings for Paranormal Activity were strong. It made me a nervous wreck, for which I greatly admired it. This sequel, while undeniably watchable, just can't work up the same level of intensity.

The performances are quite good. Itís nice to see Sloat and, especially, Featherston come back. The actress, in particular, gets a few solid scenes in which she and Kristi reveal some hidden stresses in their relationship. Never once was I bored with the picture. Things move at a brisk pace, with the demon attacks occurring at regular intervals. A couple of moments made me jump. However, the truth is that I wanted an experience like the one I had before, where I had trouble falling asleep afterward because I kept thinking about the horrific stuff that happened to poor Katie and Micah - the stuff that built to an immensely shocking grand finale.

Paranormal Activity 2 fails to maintain the momentum of its predecessor. In the last act, it introduces a disturbing character development that, unfortunately, isn't explored enough to make the sort of impact it should. What ought to be harrowing instead seems cheap. That, in turn, leads to a final 60 seconds that plays like a cornier version of the original's last 60 seconds.

In all, I feel pretty ambivalent. What we have here is an honorable although not entirely successful effort. Paranormal Activity 2 isn't even close to Paranormal Activity, but on the scale of sequels to low-budget horror sensations, it's no Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows either.

( 1/2 out of four)


Paranormal Activity 2 is rated R for some language and brief violent material. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.