Review in a Hurry: A year after the original became a surprise (and very scary) blockbuster, this found footage-style sequel surfaces packed with lousy characters and unneeded mythology. But then the last act ends up delivering, with terrifying moments that raise the bar for modern horror. Someone keep an eye on that baby!
The Bigger Picture: If you're wondering whether or not this Paranormal outing can top the first's creep factor, the answer is a resounding yes. The security cam POV is still a very unnerving way to witness people freaked out (and tossed around) by forces unseen. A door that slowly swings shut in a baby's room—effectively trapping the kid—can get under your skin way more than any of Jigsaw's antics.
So if that's all you needed to know, head to the multiplex. Sleepless nights will be waiting.
However, looking over all those security tapes reveals a problem that's more man-made than supernatural: an overstuffed script.
The original Paranormal Activity was a tightly constructed claustrophobic nightmare about two young lovers. By contrast, Paranormal Activity 2 has a cast that's three times larger (plus dog) and layers of back story that nobody needs.
A family with a new baby needs a bigger home, so they've just moved to Carlsbad, Calif., a town filled with mini-mansions a-plenty. Early on, a break-in leads dad to install cameras everywhere (the pool, kitchen, baby room, etc.). All these new cameras are a natural evolution for the sequel, since the first relied on a single cam.
The problem is what's on those HD monitors for much of the movie: generic character types, like the daughter who thinks a haunting would be cool, a crying baby, and worst of all, a father who's "the skeptic."
As the family watches footage of the automated pool cleaner magically coming out of the pool, for example, Dad insists there must be a reasonable explanation. Come. On.
Now, the mom in this spooky McMansion family has a sister, played by Katie Featherston. Fans will recognize her from the original film. It's nice to see her, but this leads to the film's other major issue: the need to over-explain what was ambiguous (and far creepier) in the first film.
New info is uncovered that suggest that the occurrences of the two films are a direct result of a family bloodline. Creating a mythology is fine for sci-fi and fantasy, but in horror it can kill the suspense, highlighting the events of the story as a unique set circumstances rather than a weird but relatable one.
The generic characters and lackluster story are disappointing, but the film has it where it counts—with unrelenting feelings of dread and powerful imagery.
Aside from the terrific finale, which we won't spoil, there's a terrific scene where Mom sits alone in the kitchen and gets shaken to the very core of sanity.
And then there's the one place that isn't outfitted with a camera: the basement. Director Tod Williams (The Door In The Floor) knows just the right time to introduce something explosive and horrible.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The original Paranormal Activity was made on micro-budget of $12,000 and raked in $100 million at the box office. Thankfully, the sequel is still presented as footage assembled from a camcorder and security tapes, which grounds the film in a kind of reality that's (mostly) CGI free.