By: Addison Wylie
Paranormal Activity, directed by first time filmmaker Oren Peli, virally spread like wildfire across internet boards as well as word of mouth to a point where the film started climbing up the box office charts eventually becoming the #1 movie in America around Halloween; knocking the latest SAW film, at that time, for a loop. Paranormal Activity also helped the growth of Twitter. By having eager movie goers demand the film to be played at their local cinema, Twitter exploded with location requests. It was no doubt that sooner or later a studio and a group of producers would want Paranormal Activity to become the next scary movie franchise. Now, with SAW claiming to release it’s “final chapter” next weekend, audiences get to undergo the next installment of Paranormal Activity for their dose of scare in a sure to be long time running franchise.
The film made out of “actual evidential footage”, follows a normal, everyday family. The Mother and Father are welcoming Hunter, a new born baby, into their household. All’s well until one day, the family wakes to find their house in absolute shambles. Furniture and their TV has been destroyed and shelves and dressers are disheveled. Thinking the crime has been caused by buglers, the father doesn’t waste time and instantly hires technicians to install security cameras throughout the house. The audience soon finds out that the Mother of this family is actually Katie’s sister. Katie, played by Katie Featherston returning from the first film, is also getting to know the new baby as well as introducing her boyfriend Micah, played by Micah Sloat also returning from the first film, to the infant too. However, while the family suspects criminals of ransacking the house, the nanny thinks differently and suspects evil spirits. As the movie plays out, we see the eerie happenings the family is experiencing as well as the evolution of the family and their psychological demise from the perspectives of the security cameras and from the family’s consumer HD video camera.
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Paranormal Activity 2 is more of the same offerings the first installment had in store. We get prolonged shots of locations in and around the house, there are a lot of scenes that may seem to go nowhere but end up detailing the characters in subtle ways, and all these scenes are building up to a big memorable climax that is sure to keep the audience at the edge of their seats. It’s a very formulaic film and because it follows in those similar footsteps, most of the scares are predictable. You can sense the beats that director Tod Williams is lifting from the first film. With that said, even though some of the scares can be seen coming a mile away, Williams is able to catch his audience off guard as well. There’s a scene in particular where the Mother is in the kitchen enjoying her day but still keeping her defense up when suddenly, a large occurrence happens making that scene one of the more memorable, jumpy scenes. Speaking of the new director at the wheel, Williams is able to improve on aspects that Peli needed a bit more guidance with in the first film. For instance, in the first Paranormal Activity, some of the prolonged shots of the couple sleeping in the bed seemed a little too drawn out and then when the end result was the door moving a quarter of an inch, the audience feels a tad underwhelmed. Williams, on the other hand, has his timing down. The exterior shots never feel too drawn out and by having the ability to use six different security camera perspectives, he’s able to keep the action and the pacing flowing consistently. Also, by flipping through the perspectives, it gives the audience a stronger feeling of uncertainty because we don’t know what room we’re going to see next. The film was written by Michael R. Perry and the dialogue is authentic while it fills holes the first movie left unfilled as well as developing the origins of the story in more detail, however, it’s hard to decipher in a film like this what dialogue was actually written and how much of it was improvisation.
The acting is very strong across the board. Even though the audience now knows the “real footage” angle is a hoax, these subjects still feel very real. The Mother character does a strong job presenting herself as someone who wants to fit in to a new family but is also emotionally distraught due to the happenings in the house. The daughter character is very competent in showing innocence and then slowly becoming objectifying to how “cool” a ghost in the house would be; another emotionally distraught character. However, the stand outs to me were the actor playing the Father character as well as the young boy playing the role of Hunter. The portrayal of the Father character was packed with realism and the actor did a fine job portraying the need of wanting to protect his family as well as establishing his frustration with thoughts of evil spirits. He was a character I thought I could somewhat relate to but as his character was affected by what was going on around him, the sooner he became a character I really despised. The child actor playing Hunter does is very surprising. The performance may seem like “another creepy baby” role but Williams is able to direct the child actor well making his reactions out to be a lot more than they actually are; they add a lot of depth to the subject at hand. Also, Hunter does a lot of walking and running during these one-shot takes. Knowing that a director had to get these specific actions across to an extremely young actor and have this child execute the directions without a flaw is astounding.
People are going to complain that this movie doesn’t offer anything new. I’ll argue that with the additions of multiple camera angles, more subjects for the film to focus on, as well as interweaving the storylines of this film with the first Paranormal Activity, the film does cover a lot of new ground. However, I do agree that the movie doesn’t do anything new formula-wise. I don’t mind that though; at least for this sequel. Let’s take a brief look at a similar film and its sequel; The Blair Witch Project. First film? Monster hit with a similar approach. Producers then took that material and made a sequel that took a radically different spin on its narrative. This didn’t click with a mainstream audience at all. In fact, The Blair Witch Project: Book of Shadows is considered a dud to this day. That said, I can totally understand why Williams and company went down this path; it’s a strong business decision. This formula, although not different, is going to please its demographic and give them the scares it needs. It’ll make a boatload of money and if they wish to take a new, radical approach with the next movie(s), they may do so. However, for now, this formula is workable. As for which movie is better? Their both on par with each other and would make a terrific Halloween double bill.