Paranormal Activity (2007) was the infamous movie that spooked Steven Spielberg (who quickly jumped in to help distribute the film), and had audiences jolting out of their seats last year. It centred around the lives of a couple, Katie (Katie Featherstone) and Micah (Micah Stoat), who upon moving into a new apartment begin experiencing a number of terrifying, ‘paranormal’ occurrences.
Its speedy follow-up, the unimaginatively named Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), will almost certainly be best enjoyed by those who viewed last year’s first original. Sequels can often stand alone as features in their own right, but the story of the original Paranormal Activity acts as a prologue, and in many ways this sequel juxtaposes the happenings and events that occurred in PA1, with some of the same characters following through into the second film. PA2 further fleshes out the backstory of the central protagonists, giving weight to the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the events that unfold in both the sequel and the first film.
PA2 follows the family of the original film’s co-protagonist Katie, consisting of her sister Kristi, her brother in law Daniel, and their young child Hunter. There is also a housekeeper, Martine, who remarkably senses – or at least suspects – an evil presence within the house. The initial scenes of the film depict an idyllic family home-life, but their security is shattered when what appears to be a break-in occurs, leaving them shaken and with the necessity to deploy wall to wall security in each room of the house. Martine is the first to notice that something is array, using a number of ‘old school’ tactics (including incense and incantation) to rid the house of whatever evil resides there, much to the dismay of Daniel who then promptly sacks this spiritual litmus paper. It is at this point that the hauntings begin to escalate in frequency and voracity, leading up to the film’s cataclysmic conclusion.
Both PA films are definable as ‘mockumentaries’ in the style of The Blair Witch Project (1999). They’re both shot in the same hand-held style and play out in sporadic real time, with the lapsing of time playing a significant role in the film as the lead characters sleep, whimper and shriek through the events. In the first film, this made the pace quite pedestrian and hard to initially get into, but the sequel suffers from none of these weaknesses, and is actually a far better, and scarier film. PA2 really wants us to believe that what we are seeing are real life events, and in true mockumentary style, even begins by providing an on-screen subtitled introduction and thanks to the family of the “deceased and the police of Carlsbad CA.”
The increasing awareness and vulnerability of the main characters is impressively done, with only one sequence in the family’s basement suffering, largely due to the camera being dropped and picked up to such an extent that it becomes impossible to be able to see what exactly is going on.
Despite the familial subject matter, there is no Spielberg-esque attempt to centre the film within the family unit. Instead, PA2 is simply content with trying to scare the living bejesus out of us, and in this respect it does not falter. A fantastic, traditional morality tale dressed in the guise of a low budget, modern horror.