Judge Roman Martel wasn't excited to be reviewing Pretty Normal Activity 2.
"One of the scariest films of all time!"
When hyperbole strikes, next on DVD Verdict.
Facts of the Case
The film takes us back to 2006, before the events of the original Paranormal Activity. Kristi Rey (Sprague Graden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) are welcoming the arrival of baby Hunter into their lives. This is Daniel's second marriage and second child. His daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) seems Okay with the arrangement, and even jokes with her step aunt Katie (Katie Featherston) about it. But since this is a sequel to a horror movie, we all know this happy-happy-joy-joy can't last. Soon enough, bizarre things start to happen in the Rey home. The trigger is what appears to be a break-in. The rooms are turned over like they were searched, but nothing is stolen. Daniel installs security cameras all around and the bulk of the movie's footage is captured on these cameras. Why is the dog staring at nothing? Why is the housekeeper mumbling to herself and burning sage? Why is Hunter floating out of his crib?
The events build to a climax that ties this story closely to the story of Katie and Micah in the first film. Can you handle more jump-scares and panicky camera action? Yes, I think you can.
When you have a popular film, sequels are a given. But filmmakers have to keep in mind that some movies just don't lend themselves to extended storytelling. In a way, I can see how Paranormal Activity left a bit of an opening for further exploration, but I wasn't puzzling over the fate of the remaining characters when it was done.
That may be why the creators instead went back in time. It was a good choice, because Katie's history in the first film hinted at a lot of mysterious events. Now we're with her sister and it becomes more obvious the haunting that occurs in both tales may be family related. It's a clever twist that opens up further story exploration for more sequels—way to go writers!
But there won't be any more sequels, if Paranormal Activity 2 fails to generate the scares and tension of the original. Now, I know this is a subjective thing. Lots of folks found the first to be super terrifying and plenty of folks found it boring and funny. I can tell you with all honesty that if you loved the first film, you'll enjoy the second. If you loathed the first film, then avoid the second.
Nothing has really changed here. There are more cameras. There are more characters to get involved with. There's a baby and a dog in danger. But really its the same film. Creepy things start happening. Some of the characters panic, some try to explain it away. The incidents increase in frequency and impact. It all ends in an orgy of screaming, flailing and bloodshed. All the beats are the same, the only difference is the window dressing.
That sounds cynical, but it still works. The use of the security cameras is actually a great idea. One of the major complaints about the first film was the flailing camera and the the idiocy of the characters holding the camera while they were in peril. This "found footage" genre will always suffer from that issue, but I thought he first film handled it reasonably well. The sequel alleviates it by having the security cameras always locked down and placed in areas were we get a good view of the action (or inaction), as well as putting up enough blind spots to make you think you see something when you really didn'tÉ or did you?
Director Todd Williams also uses the cycling of the cameras to build tension. He creates a pattern of views: firs the porch, then the swimming pool, then the entryway, then then the family room, then the kitchen, then the baby's room. You get used to the order and seeing these locals. It also keeps you watching and waiting to see something: anything. When you do see something, its creepy as hell.
Weaving of the plot with the original is also handled well. It seems a bit forced at first, but it allows the team to use most of same tricks they employed in the original. This appears to be the same entity from the first film, and so it manifests and reacts in the same ways. The story builds additional dread, because we see Katie's interaction with her sister. Since we know Katie's eventual fate, it affects how we view this storyline.
The acting style is the same here as it was in the original. It's natural and in the moment. Combined with the editing and atmosphere it fits the story well. Molly Ephraim actually gets quite a bit of screen time, and she pulls it off well making us like her, and then start fearing for her. Katie Featherston is also good in her appearances, creating foreshadowing and hinting at a history as she talks with her sister.
Like the first film, Paranormal Activity 2 relies heavily on sound effects. The ambient noise in the film is executed perfectly to build like a pressure cooker. It takes something from David Lynch's playbook (check out how he uses it to disturbing effect in Lost Highway), but nothing wrong with borrowing from the best. When the jump scares come, they are almost always accompanied by a horrific burst of sound. It's well crafted stuff and effective.
Paramount made sure that the sound on this Blu-ray was up to the task of the sound design. the 5.1 DTS HD-Master audio was perfect. The dialogue was nice and clear, even over the ambient noise. And when those punches of sound kicked in, the subwoofer got involved and it was great. I'm sure my neighbors appreciated it. The image is a bit harder to judge. Since this is all being shot with security cameras and hand held cameras, the image looks a bit soft at times, but I'm sure that its intentional. It adds to the scares if you can't really make out which shadow seemed to move in that last shot. You also get two versions of the film. The theatrical cut that runs around 91 minutes and the directors cut that runs 98. I never caught this theaters, so my first viewing was of the directors cut. If this is your first viewing I recommend that you start with the longer cut as well. The pacing is solid and the additional moments build tension, and add a bit more depth to the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Same old bag of tricks and nothing new to write home about. It makes the film feel a bit calculated at times. The fear of not shaking things up too much and losing the audience starts to seep through. At the same time the familiar also makes things less scary. The first film worked well because it was fresh and for some viewers new. It's not quite stale here, but if the film makers keep this exact same formula for part 3, they will be in trouble.
Adding a baby and a dog into the mix feels like a cheap move or obvious writers ploy. Yeah it adds some additional tension, but you also don't have to write dialogue for those characters, score!
When you boil it down to basics, this movie is people wandering around rooms, jumping at loud noises and interacting with some simple special effects. There is little blood or visceral horror to be found. Its all about suggestion and unease. Some folks just don't get disturbed by a door opening by itself. These viewers are going to spend the movie bored to tears or laughing at the reactions to a pool cleaner that keeps popping out of the pool.
Is anyone still laboring under the delusion that this is all "found footage" of real events? I don't think so. There's a cast and crew listing for ghost's sake! So why isn't there any behind the scenes extras on this disc. I'd like to hear more about the sound design, the way the camera placement was chosen and even how the script was developed to tie in with the first film. Instead all you get is a three minute deleted scene. No explanation why it was cut, nothing. Is Paramount trying to maintain an illusion? Still—put some extras on your Blu-ray! There's more than enough room!
When all is said and done, you've got a good sequel on your hands here. It's more of the same, but if you enjoyed the ride the first time, then you'll enjoy the ride again (just a little less). The story has possibilities for a sequel. I just hope its a little more creative in its execution.
Not Guilty of being the scariest film of all time.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Version
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