The first Paranormal Activity was an experiment. The sequel, Paranormal Activity 2, is more of a verification of previous results. Fortunately, it still yields the same result: a masterful chiller whose level of scares matches its astounding profitability.
The film’s structure is the same as that of the first, a house’s inhabitants are plagued by a supernatural force capable of slamming doors, knocking over pans and even physical attacks. This time, the lead characters believe their first encounter to have been a burglary and rig their interior with surveillance cameras. Like the original film, the beauty of its style is that we receive long, static takes that give the viewer ample time to fearfully scan every corner of the frame for the slightest movement or abnormality. Some of the scares are virtual replicas of the most frightening moments from the first film but the shift in focus from a couple to a family (complete with daughter, baby and faithful pooch) creates new dynamics and an added complexity to this modernized haunted house tale.
Paranormal Activity 2 peddles its scares on the disruption of the perceived safety of the home space, a notion that can be instantly undermined by even the slightest sound. Given the current housing crisis, it’s hard for me to watch the movie and not wonder if the success of this series is somehow tied to a collective consciousness of fear attributed to subprime mortgages and foreclosures. Or perhaps the films have been subconsciously discouraging the public’s desires to buy bigger and better houses? I was suddenly thankful I didn’t have to return to a large, empty house with lots of nooks and crannies after I exited the movie theater.
Released just over a year after the astounding word-of-mouth success of the first film, Paranormal Activity 2’s plot makes more effort than might be expected to tie together the events of the two films. While the connections perhaps aren’t entirely necessary, and probably don’t withstand intense scrutiny, the inventive connection between the two plots achieves something I thought was impossible, it increases the rewatchability factor of the first film.
While some critics regard the sequel as a stale retread of the first film, Roger Ebert for one, I regard both of these lo-fi spook stories as the perfect antidote to the torture porn tactics that have defined the millennial horror film genre. Even though they aren’t so much films as they are events, I consider both entries terrifying diversions whose craftsmanship and profitability are equally worthy of admiration. They won’t necessarily stand the test of time but they offer above average thrills in the heat of the moment and just enough haunting imagery to bounce around in the back of your head for a sleepless night or two. The film’s Friday night box office haul of $20 million makes another sequel next Halloween a foregone conclusion. The well will run dry eventually, but I’ll happily be on the ticket line for the franchise’s third entry.