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Non-Review Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 feels like a massive disappointment. While the original film left me tossing and turning in my bed, I can’t help but feel like I’ll have forgotten this by the time I rest my head against the pillow this evening. It almost feels like the on-screen hauntings were conducted by two very different poltergeists (or demons). If the original film was the work of a stone-cold profession with the world record in terror, just flexing his creative muscles, it almost feels like this film was the work of the office intern, clumsily trying to emulate what came before, but never really succeeding.

Watered down?

To be fair, there were elements of the film that I liked, and I liked them quite a bit. I did like the way the film played with expectations, and held back on the mysterious incidents – testing and teasing the audience with any number of false positives to make sure that we’re paying attention before the real shock begins. A scream from upstairs is nothing to do with a potentially hostile spirit, it’s just the kinda thing that happens. The thud against the window is actually a bird that lost its direction. A boyfriend’s sick sense of humour plays with the ouija board message.

The flip side of this is that it feels like it takes forever for anything to start happening. I mean, we know why we’re here. We know that there’s not a rational explanation. We know that there’s going to be something very sinister afoot. Instead, the film seems to have no measure of scale in doling out the “jump” moments. Some moments are just too small, and they’re “too small” too late into the movie, and then there are moments that are “too big”, and actually strain the suspension of disbelief, to the point where it’s ridiculous. I know “suspension of disbelief” is a relative term when you’re dealing with a ghost story, but there are some moments where the presence stalking the house starts chewing scenery like it’s Al Pacino who just missed a ham-and-cheese special at the studio canteen.

It's not outside you need to worry about...

I don’t want to spoil particular moments, but there are two instances, early in the film, where the use of the video footage would be enough to warrant a visit from Special Agent Fox Mulder. The family seem to install the recording equipment, but never check it – especially when it would prove to the arbitrarily skeptical father that there’s something funny going on. This becomes a handy plot device at the end of the movie, when he’s presented with fairly indisputable evidence, but there’s at least as much evidence on tape beforehand, and at least one of the incidents has an adult present. The other feels a little bit too much like Ghostbusters II to take entirely seriously.

The first movie balanced the scares just right. The right object moved in the right way. You got the sense that this mysterious entity had some idea what it was doing. It was smooth. It teased its presence. It did things that were easy to spot, but not necessarily “showing off.” That was the James Bond of haunting spirits – it never seemed like it was lost, and you were always seeing what it wanted you to see. In contrast, the creature here has no sense of style. It opens big, staging a disturbance we don’t see, which leads the family to install the obligatory night-vision cameras.

Precious memories?

It then proceeds to just cause things to happen with no real rhythm: small thing, smaller thing, reasonably sized thing, small thing, tiny thing, GIGANTIC THING, small thing, medium thing, smaller thing, HUGE OUT OF NOWHERE THING, small thing. The intent is clearly to catch the audience by surprise, but it never creates the impression that the movie is building to anything. There’s never the sense, like in the first one, that things are just going to get worse.

Speaking of “suspension of disbelief”, there are several other problems. I feel kinda bad mentioning one, but Sprague Grayden is too famous to be in a found footage movie. She hasn’t got a name you’ll recognise, but she’s been a recurring guest star on quite a few television shows, so it immediately shatters the illusion that the opening titlecard tries to sell you. I know nobody believes that this is real footage, and that Grayden is a much more solid actress than you’re likely to find in a “found footage” film, but her role just took me out of the film. It isn’t even my movie nerd credentials showing – my gran recognised her.

Kids see the damnedest things...

There’s also the really strange ambient “something scary is going to happen” noise. I don’t know if it’s meant to be diegetic or non-diegetic. It seems like the kind of post-effects work you’d see in a movie. Of course, this sounds ridiculous, to argue that a noise in a movie sounds staged, but it becomes an issue when a movie is selling you on realism. Even if it wasn’t audible to the cast on first hearing it, they should have at least noted it on playback? Instead, it’s used to build up to the scares, which lessens their impact, as measured against the first film.

Look, I know that the ghost isn’t an actual performer. (Not to mention that the film’s decidedly lame ending sort of shoots down the idea that this is an entirely separate spirit at work.) The only real change between this film and its predecessor is the director. Oren Peli managed to do something bold and original in the first film. I can’t help but feel like hiring another director to do their best imitation completely misses the point.

6 Responses

  1. The Paranormal activity movies are all fantastic!
    The latest one is one of the scariest movies that will ever be created!
    Keep the series going!

  2. I have a great time with all of them but with this one, I didn’t enjoy myself as much compared to the great first one and the insanely nutso third one. Good review man.

  3. I actually thought this one built on the first in terms of getting to the terror before the last thirty seconds but still keeping you on “warm” for a while.

    The third picture disappointed me greatly. Skip it and watch “House of the Dead” instead. One decision you won’t regret…

  4. its good content . thanks

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