PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
Paranormal Activity 2, which serves as both sequel and prequel to last October's low-rent horror smash, employs the same scare tactic that made its predecessor such a shivery good time: An unbroken, stationary, nighttime shot that we stare at for long seconds while waiting - and waiting - for an unseen demon to subtly (or not-so-subtly) announce its presence. The difference, though, is that instead of a nocturnal view of a young couple's master bedroom, director Tod Williams' follow-up gives us six camera setups of its type, each positioned in a different part of a sprawling California dwelling. You'd think this would result in six times the spooky fun, but sadly, Paranormal Activity 2 is only about one-sixth as scary as the original, and even that might be a generous estimate.
After an apparent break-in during which their house was trashed yet nothing was stolen, a well-to-do couple (Brian Boland and Sprague Hayden) installs a high-tech surveillance system in the hopes of catching future perpetrators in the act ... I guess. (I didn't quite buy this plot-establishing device, but then I also didn't buy that the charming young Hayden would marry the schlumphy, middle-aged Boland, who's like an unappealing doppelgänger of Randy Quaid.) And on your initial viewing of the grainy, black-and-white security-camera shots of the home, you get the same chill you felt at Paranormal Activity's outset - nervously scanning these images, you wonder what's gonna pop up, or creep up, and scare the living bejeezus out of you.
Is it a spoiler to say, "Almost nothing, really"? The first time we see the succession of the six surveillance shots - front porch, pool, kitchen, living room, foyer, and baby's room, where we're witness to a minor disturbance - your nerves are happily on edge. The second time - again: front porch, pool, kitchen, living room, foyer, and baby's room, with another minor disturbance - your nerves relax a bit, and you wonder if something eerie is ever going to happen in the first five shots.
The dozenth time - in case you'd forgotten: front porch, pool, kitchen, living room, foyer, and baby's room - you're so ready to scream "Get on with it already!" at the unbearable repetition that whatever creep-out is going on in little Hunter's room is less a thrill than a relief. Repetition, of course, was key to the escalating terror in Paranormal Activity, but here, with five out of six shots providing practically nothing in the way of tension or scares, you just wind up bored for five-sixths of the film. (Considering how replete with doorways, hallways, windows, and mirrors the house is, it's embarrassing that director Williams and screenwriter Michael R. Perry do so little with them.)
Williams does, at least, have an expertly trained dog and toddler at his disposal here, there are a few good, unexpected jolts - nearly all of them resulting from loud BOOM!!!s on the soundtrack - and the original film's Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat make terrifically welcome reappearances. (Our first sight of Featherston, whose Katie character is revealed to be Hayden's sister, is a giggly shock, because we haven't yet been made aware that this film, at its start, takes place weeks before the events in Paranormal Activity.) Yet while the movie is no cynical, grab-the-cash-and-run rip-off of a follow-up, it's still a bummer. In the one truly evocative and horrifying moment in Paranormal Activity 2, the invisible, devilish force slowly drags Hunter along his crib and up its protective gate, and what do Williams and his editor go and do? They cut to a shot of the living room, where nothing is happening. And then a shot of the foyer, where nothing is happening. And then return us to the baby's room, where the kid is standing, unharmed, at his doorway. Was his escape from the crib an effect too expensive to show, or was this just filmmaking laziness?