Review: Paranormal Activity 2

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Last year, I saw Paranormal Activity and I liked it (you can read my review of it here). Despite my aversion to handheld-camera movies, I found the original a good modern-Gothic flick, crammed with shadows, weird noises and jump moments. Paranormal Activity 2 is more of the same. And that’s why it works and it doesn’t work, though it’ll do the trick for those who liked the original.

Paranormal Activity 2, technically, is not a sequel. It is a prequel, narrating events that happened before the beginning of the first moment. Thus, the protagonists of the first film, Katie and Micah, return, but only for a few brief moments. The story really centers on Katie’s sister, Kristi, and her family. Kristi is the second wife of Dan, stepmother to a teenager and new mom to a baby boy. The household is completed by a Mexican nanny named Martine, thus making this a bigger cast than in the first movie, where the people on camera for most of the duration were Micah and Katie. This is good, because I disliked Micah and Dan is not much of an improvement. On the other hand, I actually liked the teenage daughter (wonder of wonders), sympathized with the nanny, thought the baby was cute, and the dog was adorable. I have problems with horror movies that make us hate the whole cast, because there’s not much at stake when you wish the heroes would be swallowed by a monster.

In terms of its narrative and look, the prequel plays pretty much like the original. A bigger budget means we get to see more camera angles (security camera footage from inside and outside the house, as well as a handheld), but the pattern is the same: daily events as seen through a lens, with odd, small occurrences escalating to more violent and obvious shenanigans. Once again, we witness Upper Middle Class People in Peril (I must admit, looking at the size of smug Dave’s television, I was happy he was about to be visited by demons). Once again, someone brings out a Ouija board. Once again, the man of the household does not believe that there is something supernatural afoot and acts like a jerk. Once again, someone does research on the computer and instantly finds useful information on demons and pieces the whole case together.

In my review of Paranormal Activity, I said that this would have never happened to me, because I’d be phoning Catemaco and asking to speak with the most important witch in the town. For those who do not know what I’m talking about, Catemaco is known through Mexico as a “witch” town, with numerous witches, sorcerers, diviners, and whatnot. There is a witch market in Mexico City (Mercado de Sonora). Thus, even though some reviewers have complained about the Mexican nanny having Magical Minority Syndrome because she senses something is wrong and tries to do something about it, I didn’t have a problem with it. The actress playing Martine was from Mexico, spoke accurate Spanish (You’d be surprised to know most movies feature completely awful pseudo-Spanish, obviously having cast people who don’t speak the language) and behaved like someone from her age and social station might behave. That is, she was superstitious. I’m not saying that by virtue of being Mexican, we are all implanted with supernatural detectors, but I did grow up with a great more deal of folklore and superstitions than the average person from Ottawa.

Anyway, Martine pulls out the incense almost at once, but she gets fired for all her efforts. This leaves the poor baby wailing at night, the dog barking at something, and the women in the family feeling like they are under an increased threat. As in the first film, such threats come in the shape of odd noises and shadows. A frying pan falls off its hook. A door slams shut or creaks open. Footsteps are heard on the second floor. It’s all the horror of the unseen, relying on anticipation as our eyes scan the camera frame, looking for the place where the next spooky detail might pop up.

In terms of a storyline, it’s pretty much nonexistent. We do get to learn some things that answer questions posed by the first movie, such as why the demon might be targeting this family and later, Katie in particular, but it poses as many questions. In reality, the film consists of sequences and scenes of the supernatural disturbing everyday life. The plot is not that important. This means we don’t get much character development. We don’t know much about these people and they sometimes lack a big slice of logic (Martine aside). For example, despite the weirdness going on (which is subtle yet creepy), the mother does not consider dragging the baby’s crib into the master bedroom to keep a closer eye on the tyke. Nobody checks the security footage to see if anything has been caught on film until it’s way too late. I simply cannot believe that Kristi or her stepdaughter wouldn’t have done this earlier in the film, especially when the daughter develops a habit of keeping the videotape by her side of the bed in order to record any nocturnal disturbances.

In the end, I think Paranormal Activity 2 is a worthy successor to the first film. If you want movies with special effects and gore, once again, this is not the film for you. It’s just as slow-paced, quiet and slightly unsettling as the first. The concept of the “found footage” and cameras capturing all the evil at work does not feel as fresh as the first time around, and the scares are not quite as big, but this is only natural considering how novel the first effort felt.

Even though I didn’t quite like it as much as the first one, I recommend Paranormal Activity 2 to fans of suspenseful ghost stories, such as House on Haunted Hill or Turn of the Screw. The director definitely knows how manipulate an audience and induce dread. I’m glad that more subtle horror is successful, and we have options if we don’t want to watch another Saw entry.

If you’re wondering whether to go watch this or not, I would note that these types of flicks are best seen in the movie theatre. You can literally feel the fear of others washing over you. Having watched the first film a second time on DVD, it was not the same. It’s also useful to go with a friend, because you’ll have a buddy to clutch if you get scared.