The viewing room: 'Paranomal Activity 2'

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2010

Any fun to be had from watching the first "Paranormal Activity" was mostly due to audience reaction, rendering it a satisfying choice for theaters and not so much for video. Its sequel doesn't even have that.

"Paranormal Activity 2" follows the exact same scenario (and the same bloodline) as before. We watch the whole thing through first-person video cameras via camcorders and home security monitors. Also adding to its "realistic" feel is the absence of music, an increasingly common element in first-person fictions, such as "Quarantine."

The sequel is actually a prequel, taking place just before the first movie's opening. Its purpose is to explain why the first movie happens at all. The original two actors are even back to reprise their roles.

The movie again follows Katie and her family, only this time it's her sister who's getting the ghosts. After bringing their new baby home, the family's nights start out quietly at first - then stay that way for a long time.

Eventually, the demon slowly starts making its presence known via the old method of moving things. This does escalate into more gripping attacks, but by that time it's hard to get involved in it because you can't take this spook seriously at this point.

For one thing the demon is now abandoning creepiness for quick shocks like thrusting doors open simultaneously. Subtle haunts, like moving a baby's mobile, give some feeling of impending dread, but nothing enough to really scare you. Maybe just a quick jolt now and again.

These jolts themselves are few and far between. The pacing is too slow. We're waiting to be scared and keep waiting. There are several sequences of the video cameras showing a sleeping house then cutting to the next day. This method can be effective in building suspense if done right. Here, it's just not. Spirit mischief is also foreshadowed by a faint rolling noise, so you know when to grip the armrests.

The filmmakers resort to trying to imitate the same emotions of the original without inventing new ones, yet they bypass some of the creepiest. Possession in the first movie entails swaying back and forth on your feet and staring for hours on end. Now that can create a few lumps in the throat. Here the possessed woman's been downgraded to just being in a bad mood. Not exactly the same.

This brings up an interesting point: families in movies, even after seeing a demon in the house and possessing the missus, never think about leaving. Maybe they think evil spirits bore easily and move to Connecticut to retire.

Another letdown is the ending, which is more of an homage to the first one than anything else. The original was slow in its own right, but did have a decent payoff in the last few moments. The new one nods to that but doesn't even try.

While it was nothing to scream about, the original was definitely something to see in a crowded theater because the suspense came from everyone feeding off each other's reactions. The sequel leaves audience feeling nothing. You learn to sense when something's about to happen pretty quickly and are likely waiting for it by that time anyway. People in the seats just won't be as involved and definitely won't provoke the same kinds of group reactions, even if they jump at the right spots.

One interesting tidbit for those who decide to give "Paranormal Activity 2" a shot anyway. Before going inside, check out the film's poster. There's an abnormality foreshadowing the ending.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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