I think we all knew that Paranormal Activity would be turned
into a franchise. Now that the Saw movies have run their course, it’s
time for the next big low-budget, high-profit horror movie bottled
lightning. Naturally, a sequel was prepped immediately after the first
movie became a hit, but the first film didn’t leave much to work with,
aside from maybe the continuing adventures of Katie Featherston.
Additionally, the sequel was going forward without any input from
original writer/director Oren Peli, though he would obligingly receive a
story credit and a producer credit.
I thought the whole thing smelled of a cash grab. I was wrong.
With Paranormal Activity 2, director Tod Williams and his
three credited screenwriters (yes, it apparently took three people to
write this work of “cinema verite”) show an avid understanding of the
original movie. This is a film that builds on the previous movie’s
strengths while downplaying — though not completely eradicating — its
weaknesses. They leave the door wide open for sequels, but not in such a
way that fans will necessarily feel cheated if they don’t get one. In
short, they took the original movie’s template and made a respectful,
outstanding follow-up with it.
Perhaps their first smart move was in the chronology of this film.
It’s actually more of a prequel, considering that most of the story
takes place before the events of the original movie. However, the term
“prequel” isn’t necessarily accurate, since knowledge of the previous
film’s events is mandatory. What’s more, this movie takes place before,
during and after the events of the first film. This isn’t a prequel,
midquel or a sequel so much as it’s an extension of the first movie. I
don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.
The storyline focuses on Katie’s sister (yes, she apparently had a
sister all this time). Kristi and her husband, Dan, have just welcomed
their new son, Hunter, into the world. Their household also includes Ali
— Kristi’s stepdaughter — a nanny and a dog. Katie and Micah from the
original movie also appear frequently, with the real-life Katie
Featherston and Micah Sloat reprising their roles.
Right off the bat, there’s a notable difference: The last film had
two main characters and this one has six, including the dog. It’s
cinematic common sense that if a movie has one or two main characters,
the chances are pretty good that one or both of them will make it to the
end of the movie. Kill them too soon, after all, and we’d have a really
short movie. With a larger cast, on the other hand, comes longer odds.
These characters are in much greater danger simply because there are
more of them. Sure enough, where the demon of the last film was
essentially toothless until the very end, the demon in this film does a
lot more injury and does it much sooner.
Thus, we have a much scarier film. The movie does have a lot
of padding and some pretty tame scares early on, but the scares in the
latter half are much more frightening than anything in the first movie
(the cupboard jump scare about halfway through the film is probably my
favorite). There’s a lot of added tension, primarily because of the
greater threat but also because we see so much of the movie through
stationary cameras. Yes, that’s plural. Tod Williams and company took
the original’s fixed camera and improved on it by utilizing footage from
security cameras placed all over the house. Cutting from one camera to
another adds some much-needed energy to the sequences in which
absolutely nothing is happening. This approach also forces the audience
into a completely impartial role, without any single character to see
the movie through. As a result, when something goes bump in the night,
we usually have no idea if it’s a person, a demon or something else
It’s also worth noting that the larger cast made for much more
diversity. The last film just had Katie, who wanted the demon to go
away, and Micah, who was kind of a dick about the whole thing. But with
more characters comes more perspectives on the situation. We’ve got
Kris, who’s trying to keep her head down while denying to know as much
as she obviously does. There’s Dan, who is actively doing his best to
stay ignorant and cling to flimsy, mundane explanations for what’s
happening. We’ve got the dog, who seems to see much more of the threat
than we do and is clearly trying to protect the family against this
perceived threat. There’s the Latina nanny, who instinctively knows that
there are demons present and tries to drive them back with
superstitions, acting by a “Mexican = uber-Christian” stereotype that I
honestly found a touch uncomfortable. Of course, we also have the baby,
who acts as the movie’s defenseless MacGuffin.
But for me, the most intriguing character was Ali. The stepdaughter
starts as a background character, but eventually gets promoted to
“audience proxy” halfway through the film. Her initial reaction to the
perceived haunting is basically that it’s really cool, but this reaction
is poignantly underlined by four simple words: “What if it’s Mom?” Not
long after, Ali figures out that this is no friendly ghost. From that
point on, she works to figure out what’s happening and acts as our
device for learning more about what this thing is and why it’s going
after the family.
I was really fond of how this film opened up the mythology of the
series. This film answers several questions from the first — such as
“Why is the demon going after Katie?” and “Why now?” — while leaving a
few ambiguities. Thus, this movie enriches the one that came before
while simultaneously creating material for future sequels. Very well
There’s a lot to admire about Paranormal Activity 2. Paramount
could easily have botched or bungled the film, cutting corners and
rushing it out as a guaranteed moneymaker. However, it’s clear that
everyone behind this did everything possible to make this picture worth
the box office grosses while simultaneously keeping the budget down.
This movie solidly paved the way for a Paranormal Activity franchise,
but did so in a way that preserved what made the original movie
enjoyable to begin with.
This film won’t convert anyone who passed on the original and seeing
the second without seeing the first would be a bad move. However, if
you watched the original Paranormal Activity, you should already
have seen this. Even if you hated the original, I’d recommend giving the
sequel extension a look.