US (dir. Tod Williams)
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden, Seth Ginsberg, William Juan Prieto, Jackson Xenia Prieto, Vivis Colombetti, David Bierend
Synopsis: After experiencing what they think are a series of “break-ins”, a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem.
Review: As a professed fan of the original, it was a no-brainer that I would be first in line to check out the sequel, albeit a tad reluctantly. A part of me had hoped that there would be no sequel at all, since the first film did more than enough to satisfy me. And let’s face it, sequels, more often than not, fail to live up to the impact of the first film, as Randy from “Scream 2” would infamously argue. However there’s nothing quite like capitalizing on the astronomical success of “Paranormal Activity”, so you can’t really blame the producers of the sequel for trying. Whether or not the sequel would be a critical darling would hardly be a point of concern when the film would almost be guaranteed to earn millions in the first day of its release. Would “Paranormal Activity 2” (or “Paranormal 2 Activity”, as the one-sheet calls it) be a worthy follow up, scaring the shit out of audiences everywhere as its predecessor had done? Would it surpass the original in terms of quality now that any shortcomings of “Paranormal Activity” could be improved upon? In short, no. There’s nothing to see here except the redundant application of the exact same formula followed by the original. There’s nothing new, nothing ground-breaking, and while the story is further developed, the plot is formulaic and the film feels like a really poor carbon copy of “Paranormal Activity”.
First and foremost, this isn’t a sequel. It’s a goddamn prequel. And it’s not even really a prequel in the strictest sense of the term, it’s more like a chronicle of the events immediately preceding the events of “Paranormal Activity” and the events occurring simultaneously to those in “Paranormal Activity”. The last 5 minutes or so of the film, preceded by an unnecessary clip from the beginning of “Paranormal Activity” to remind us that this is now where the “sequel” begins, serves as the continuation of the original film (the version with the ending where Katie kills Micah and disappears). Unfortunately this sequel bit is just as laced with loose ends as the original film’s theatrical ending, so it’s more like a “here’s where Katie went after she killed Micah” explanation that provides little to the overall story.
Since the events of “Paranormal Activity 2” are for the most part happening immediately prior, and/or simultaneously to, the events of “Paranormal Activity” it’s safe to assume that the family at the center of this prequel/sequel will be relatively safe (for the most part) or else Katie would have mentioned something to Micah during the first film. Going against this would have been a serious cheat, providing a major continuity issue, therefore right off the bat the audience is put into an extremely comfortable situation. Micah and Katie often visit the family too, so really there’s not much of a chance that some extreme disaster will befall the family until the time-line of “Paranormal Activity 2” catches up to the time-line of the original film (at various scenes, the audience is reminded of the time-line, i.e. “60 days before the death of Micah Sloat”, in bold, size 1000 font that spans the center of the screen).
I’m happy to report that I got to see a lot more of my beloved Micah since he now becomes the guy in front of the camera instead of the guy behind it.
Oh and we also get a peek at what the demon from “Paranormal Activity” was really after during a scene in which Katie takes a revealing dip in her sister’s pool. Hint: boobs.
This time around, the soon-to-be very troubled family installs a slew of security cameras (including one for the pool for some bizarre reason) in the wake of a break-in. No need for an improved alarm system? I guess they wanted to watch their shit getting stolen instead of preventing it from happening in the first place. In addition to the six surveillance cameras around the house making it feel about as cozy as a prison, there’s also a hand-held camera (carried around by the teenage daughter) to add to the fun. Over-kill on the cameras? You betcha. In fact, many of the cameras capture absolutely nothing at all during the course of the film and the repetitive structure of the first film, where night falls and the cameras roll, really started to rake my nerves when a good 45 minutes had passed and no paranormal activity was captured on screen. That whole “uh oh…” feeling from the first film, where Micah and Katie go to bed and the camera starts capturing any bizarre occurrences, was lost here. There was no real sense of dread, no tense anticipation. Someone should let Tod Williams know that an absence of activity is not called building suspense, it’s called “nothing is fucking happening”. Every time night would fall and the cameras would kick in with a caption reading “Night #_” it was less of an “uh oh” feeling and more a sense of “ugh, not again”. The cherry on the proverbial cheesecake had to be the pool camera which, I swear to God, captured a fucking pool cleaner moving across the pool night after night after night. I’m surprised the pool cleaner didn’t get a cast credit, it was in the movie more than even Katie or Micah!
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the pool cleaner pops up in “Paranormal Activity 3”. There was even a damn side story involving the pool cleaner where the family thinks it may be haunted because it “mysteriously” winds up outside of the pool in the morning. Yeah…
To further add unintentional comic relief is Martine, the Mexican cleaning lady whose lack of a green card instantly makes her the film’s demonology expert. She is such a caricature of the stereotypical Mexican cleaning lady, it was almost racist. She could not have been any closer to the Consuela character (the “more lemon Pledge” Mexican maid) from “Family Guy”.
And that becomes part of the problem in this film, the lack of realism. The actors/actresses try way too hard to sell the idea that they are a real family, but it comes off as being way too forced. The ease in which Micah and Katie convinced audiences they were a real couple is difficult to fake, and when it is faked (as is the case here) it is painfully obvious. Honestly, “found footage” has never looked so staged. So with an overkill on the camera coverage and an uber-fake family at the center of the action, “Paranormal Activity 2” doesn’t quite get off to a great start. Plus Micah’s charming comedic relief is absent, substituted by a father character trying way too hard to be Micah 2.0.
As for the story, or what little there is of a story, Katie’s sister has a baby who is being stalked by a demon which may or may not have been the result of some sort of trade off in the past where a first born son is traded for wealth, power and success. This confirmed an earlier suspicion I had regarding Katie and Micah’s apparent success in life at such a young age. A lot of the familiar territory from the first film is re-tread upon, giving the viewer a “been there, seen that” feeling, especially in scenes involving people being dragged by an invisible entity (the impact is sadly lost here). There’s really maybe one good, absolutely solid jump-scare that takes place mid-afternoon in a peaceful kitchen (I’ll admit I screamed at that one), but for the most part it’s all just bumps in the night. So with all the best scare scenes appearing as weak carbon copies of “Paranormal Activity”, one inevitably has to ask what the point would be of watching a film that is nearly identical to its predecessor? An attempt to add depth to the storyline by providing an explanation for Katie’s haunting and eventual possession in the original film doesn’t quite justify its existence, and since this film fails to work as a standalone, or even solid companion piece, to the first film, one is left with the impression that it has little to offer. With nothing fresh brought to the table besides a dog, a baby and a goddamn pool cleaner, one is better off just watching the original and ignoring this painfully repetitive dreck altogether. At best, this should have been direct-to-video fare, at which point its redundant aspects would have been forgivable.
In the end, this film fails to evoke the escalating sense of dread that was so easily captured in “Paranormal Activity”. Boasting only one solid scare scene, “Paranormal Activity 2” is a definite pass. Unfortunately, enough material was laid out here for a third film which, I’m just speculating here, will also be a prequel. Sadly, I doubt there will be any more appearances by Micah (unless recycled footage is shown, and I wouldn’t put it past them) and I’m willing to bet the same formula and scare-tactics will be employed ad nauesum, making a franchise that is roughly the equivalent of recycled paper.
P.S. Was anyone else groaning at the presence of a freakin’ “Demand It!” button on the movie posters? As if this movie wouldn’t have been released without a few people demanding it via http://eventful.com/demand.