Candid Camera

Found-footage scares return with a demonic vengeance in Paranormal Activity 2

Rarely does a horror movie sequel come close to the quality of the original. There’s no Godfather II or Lord of the Rings trilogy of scares. A comedy follow-up that’s not as good as the first is worthwhile if it still gets some laughs. But with horror, it’s almost impossible to capture the original tone.

Paranormal Activity 2, a sequel with a much bigger budget, comes close.

What made the first Paranormal Activity so good is that it’s a horror movie that slowly built its scares by creeping into the viewer’s mind—as opposed to the typical loud noises and quick startles. Plus, the tiny budget made the film look and feel real.

Paranormal Activity 2, which is really somewhat of a prequel, takes place two months before the events of the original, where Micah Sloat is killed by her demon-possessed girlfriend Katie Featherstone. In this instance, Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is the protagonist. She and her family—husband Daniel (Brian Boland), stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), toddler son Hunter and dog—have a nice house in Southern California. But bad things are happening there. After finding it trashed one afternoon, the family thinks their home has been broken into even though nothing has been stolen. The solution: Scatter security cameras around the house. This gives Michael R. Perry, a television writer in his first produced screenplay, and director Tod Williams the perfect reason to mimic the shooting style and story delivery of the original.

Some things are completely redundant, such as husband Daniel not believing in any of this supernatural mumbo-jumbo and pretty much ignoring everything his scared wife and daughter say. This is much like Micah in the original, except that Daniel is one of the most unlikable movie characters in recent memory, and toward the end, makes a decision that leaves the audience wanting him to die a painful, horrible, demon-riddled death.

Where the filmmakers get it completely right is by adding a dog and a little child. The scariest elements of the first film always took place with the weird, macabre incidents that would happen to Katie. Think about some of those things and then imagine seeing events of a similar nature happening to a cute kid and a cuddly dog.

By injecting Ali, there is also a completely new point of view from a character, which enhances the overall scope of the picture. A teenage girl’s thoughts about living in a haunted house certainly differ from a new mother’s, at least for a while. (Maybe next time the pet will announce its fears on a grainy camera).

The scares work really well. Another slow burn where the viewer can seem impending doom for thve main characters who can’t seem to get out of their own way.

After a successful sequel, the team behind Paranormal Activity has set themselves up nicely for a franchise. An easy prequel from the early 1900s could take place given the information revealed in this one. And at least two different sequel setups are there for the taking: one involving a family member who doesn’t die and one involving Katie (who is featured often enough in this edition that we remember just how awful things got for her). Audiences could easily tire of watching the same formula over and over again, but when done this well, probably not for a while.

Paranormal Activity 2 (R) ★★★☆☆