Katie Featherston, Gabriel Johnson, Gabriel Liotta
Michael R. Perry, Oren Peli
If you enjoyed Paranormal Activity, then there's a decent chance that you will at least appreciate Paranormal Activity 2 and its near carbon copy way of delivering the thrills and chills of the original film with arguably less effectiveness.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel of sorts, taking place 1-2 months prior to the original film and, for the most part, setting up the entire story with seemingly endless amounts of expository dialogue occasionally interrupted by moments of semi-genuine suspense and chills that would potentially be frightening if they didn't seem like direct rip-offs of the original film and more methodical than natural manifestations of what's actually going on.
As one might expect, Paranormal Activity 2 is bigger and, at least technically, better than its predecessor with a more satisfying cast and infinitely improved production values that very nearly mask that much of what's going on here is same story, different month. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is sister to the original film's Katie (Katie Featherston) and married to Dan (Brian Boland). He has a preteen daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), from his first marriage and the happily married couple have a one-year-old son, Hunter.
Different family, though related. Same scenario, also related.
Paranormal Activity, looking at cost-to-profit ratio, was the most successful film in cinematic history. Even considering the infinitely higher budget for Paranormal Activity 2 at $3 million, the film's opening weekend of $41 million plus some change would indicate that this series, no matter how warmed over this sequel is, isn't going to die out any time soon even if the characters themselves do.
Jigsaw would even be jealous of these numbers.
While it's certainly admirable, on a certain level, that the film's original director and the screenwriter of this film, Oren Peli, obviously has figured out what made the first film a success, it's hard not to wish that he hadn't stuck so closely to the original film's formula and hadn't decided that the story itself needed what amounts to unnecessary plot exposition.
Does knowing more about the story really help? Not in the least. What would have helped Paranormal Activity 2 even more would have been more chills, more thrills and a few less shots of a randomly moving pool filter.
Sprague Grayden is a massive improvement upon the original's Katie Featherston, who is seen in this film off and on and still, curiously, receives top billing. While Grayden isn't likely to be nominated for any acting awards any time soon, part of the whole point of the Paranormal Activity films is the whole everyday ordinariness of those involved in the story.
Mission accomplished. Sprague Grayden's acting is ordinary and everyday.
Tod Williams takes over as director here, but the switch seems pointless as Williams offers nothing new to the occasion other than, perhaps, knowing how to lasso the youngster, Hunter, who becomes central to the story in a wannabe spooky kind of way along the lines of Poltergeist though with considerably fewer unnerving moments.
By no means a bad film, it is actually a bit refreshing that Paramount didn't toss at us a mega-budgeted film given the success of Paranormal Activity. A $3 million budget is chicken feed these days in Hollywood, but it's enough of an incremental increase that one can see the technical growth in the film without losing the original's grassroots, indie stylings.
There will be, undoubtedly, a Paranormal Activity 3 and here's hoping that Oren Peli and Paramount Studios work together to create a film that is less talk, more action and a lot more frightening.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic