Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2
Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan Rey (Brian Boland) Paranormal Activity 2. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

Movie Review
By Bernie Jablonski

In my review for The Last Exorcism, I said that I would be the first in line to see Paranormal Activity 2, and no, I didn’t make any Thursday midnight showings, (or even the Thursday 10pm ones), but I did see it promptly the next day. And the word is this: What you got in Paranormal Activity, you get the same in Paranormal Activity 2, because 2 is not much different from the first one. That’s not a bad thing, though.

Oh, go ahead, quibble. The first movie is about a California couple who find unaccountable things going on in their house, and set up a video camera in their bedroom, the apparent locus of the paranormal activity, to see if anything shows up on the recorder. It does. They make plans for dealing with the intrusion. And so it goes. Seeing PA is not necessary to understand or appreciate PA2 (and, psych, I’m not even gpoing to say “…but it helps.”)

Paranormal Activity 2, in ways that are left for your own discovery, is both prequel and sequel to the first movie. In the second movie, a young couple with a child and dog believe that their house has been vandalized, and to protect themselves from further intrusions set up about a half-dozen security cameras within the house, reviewing the footage each night. And so it goes.

All right, quibblers, you got me. The multiple-camera thing is a difference, but in one way just a nominal one. In another way, it keeps the audience ahead of the action as we go through the rotation of camera points of view throughout the movie, sometimes being exposed to strange happenings before the main characters are. It gives us a fleeting feeling of superiority over the characters, which changes to helplessness when we realize we can’t help.

The performances in both movies are vital to selling the premise of the movies, and the acting is so natural and credible that we find it easy to buy into what’s happening on the screen. That premise, as noted before, is very similar to the one in the first movie, but the new folks are distinctly different from the couple in the first movie that the situation, though familiar, becomes their unique situation. Any sniffling that you may have done about how sequels are made to cash in on the originals, and how the link to the first movie is sometimes tenuous at best, are soon dashed away.

Where do they get actors that plug into the given situation as well as these do? In both movies, the conflict and strain over how to proceed with the situation grips us in a very human way, and the emotion on display (much of the script is improvised) is easily relatable. In 2 we have the added complication of a baby and a dog in the mix, and archetypal memories of children and animals and that were threatened in movies and how we often root for their survival more than that of the human characters comes to mind. (I remember seeing The Hindenburg back in 1976, and how a little girl sitting behind me, watching the carnage at the dirigible’s explosion, and screaming out “What about the dog?,” and being relieved at the end when the disembodied narrator told us that the dog had survived.

Sorry about the digression. It’s hard to talk about the movie without giving anything anyway. Paranormal Activity cost $11,000 to make, with part of that sum going to the rental of a costume that didn’t make it to the edit of the movie that was shown in theaters. 2 has a reported budget of   three million, yet you wonder where the money went (and not in a bad Adventures of Pluto Nash way). We still look like we’re in the director’s house, we still don’t see a lot of the outside world, and we don’t see a lot of people. According to the November 5, 2010 edition of Entertainment Weekly, in an article entitled, “How We Escaped the Blair Witch 2 Curse,” producer Jason Blum reported that, “We had every resource at our disposal, but any time our eyes started to get too big, Oren (Peli, director of PA and producer of 2) and Paramount pushed us to stay true to the language, pace and tone of the first movie.”

Done. I realized that of the reasons to be afraid in the first movie, (like darkness, and the primary bugaboo, the unknown), the fear that I seemed to tap into the most was that of claustrophobia, of the fear of being trapped. (I probably experienced this fear the most at the movies when I saw Signs. Several characters protect themselves from a reported alien invasion by boarding themselves up in their grimy cellar, and confronted by this tightly close scene, and feeling as isolated as they did, I began to wonder if the situation outside was as bad as they imagined, and began to wonder if they were imagining the whole thing, and the fear of the unknown kicked in, and I freaked.) We are treated to a trip to the basement…

As in the first movie, (and those of you out there that are involved in theater know about this) pauses are powerful. In PA, one of the most frightening and ungluing parts is the image of a character standing there and just looking ahead. Not at us in the audience, mind you, just…looking. Chilling moments of silence like that exist in PA2, and they work, I think, because those are the long-lasting moments of tension and fear that we are mostly likely to encounter in life. Another thing that works in this movie is how the familiar geography can change radically and refuse to be a comfort to us when we are afraid.

OK, so I’ll settle on “similar but different.” I felt no feeling of disappointment at seeing this movie, even though, as I said before, it’s a lot like the original movie. I guess the analogy I would use would be that you could compare this movie to a really good (deep-dish, OK?) pizza that you would have one night, and when you went back to it the next night, you would be experiencing the same ingredients, but it would somehow still be as fresh and filling as it was the night before. In your head, you can change the tomato paste to blood if you want to. In your spare time, if you want a good scare, see Paranormal Activity 2.

Paranormal Activity 2 trailer.

Bernie Jablonski teaches Mass Media and Performing Arts in the Fine Arts Department at Marian Catholic High School.