After the ‘surprise’ success of the first film, one would be forgiven for worrying that Paranormal Activity 2 was simply a good excuse for a quick cash-in. I must admit that when I first heard a sequel was in production, thoughts of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 entered my mind. Surprisingly, however, this sequel isn’t simply a rehash of elements of the first film. In fact, it has a carefully crafted (and more complex) narrative that intersects brilliantly with the first Paranormal Activity.
I would heartily recommend not knowing anything about the plot, and for those who want to go in ‘clean’, then they can skip this paragraph (which only details the bare premise). Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan (Brian Boland) have just brought their newborn son Hunter back to their house, only to be burgled a day later. Strangely, nothing is stolen – but the house is a mess, with furniture overturned and belongings thrown everywhere. In order that they can rest easier, they have cameras installed in every room in the house. This, of course, enables the sequel to be a bit more ambitious than its predecessor.
The film is a mix of handheld camera and stationary security cameras. This means that it isn’t quite as restricted as the first, and also gives a greater playing field in which to work. In the first film, I spent much of the night scenes with my eyes glued to the bedroom doorway, expecting something to appear at any moment. With the sequel, there’s a camera set up in the lounge room, which gives us a view of four separate doorways, not to mention cupboards and windows. This meant that I was constantly on the lookout for whatever terror might be lurking, my eyes frantically searching from one doorway to the next.
Once again, ultra-realistically portrayed characters populate the film. I loved the family unit. Dan has a daughter from a previous marriage, Ali (Molly Ephraim), and it’s interesting to watch her sympathies shift from her dad to her stepmum as the film progresses. Ephraim’s performance is possibly the best of a brilliant lot – it never once feels like she is acting.
The scares this time around are much the same, and perhaps this is the only flaw of the film. As a sequel, apart from expanding the setting, it doesn’t really tread any new ground – so we know just how far the horror is going to take us. With the first film, I really had no idea what was going to happen, so it was such a brilliant shock when some of the now classic moments occurred. This limitation is of course both a blessing and a curse, as the story expands beautifully upon the goings on in the first film.
Paranormal Activity 2 would have to be one of those great sequels that is practically an equal. The narrative is such a perfect expansion of the first film that I have to wonder if this wasn’t always part of Oren Peli’s plan from the beginning (he wrote and directed the first film and produced the second). It cleverly answers questions from the first film, while raising some of its own. In fact, this is exactly the sort of route Blair Witch should have taken. When the inevitable Paranormal Activity 3 comes, I hope they can keep to such a high standard (and also hope that they have the common sense to know when to stop.)Rating: