OCTOBER 22, 2010
I am proud to be one of the first to proclaim my love for the first Paranormal Activity, which I saw three years ago (two before its theatrical release) at the Screamfest film festival, where it had its first ever screening if memory serves. It was a brilliantly executed, out of nowhere surprise that truly scared me at times and made one of the most natural fits ever for a "found footage" type film. Paranormal Activity 2, obviously, does not have that lack of any sort of expectation, or novelty, going for it - but does it measure up regardless?
Well, no, it doesn't. While it's a good followup and will more than likely earn Paramount back their investment in about 4 hours, there are some blunders that kept it from being another home run for me (let's call it a triple that the opposing coach would have challenged). The biggest is that it's a goddamn prequel. As I've said before, prequels are not something I usually look forward to, because more often than not, the fate of the protagonists is known. Any action scene with Obi-Wan in the three Star Wars prequels was just dull to me - I know he won't even be injured, let alone killed, because he grows old with genuine class. Here it's a bit different - we know our folks are safe because our protagonist is Katie's sister from the first movie.
See, throughout the film, Katie visits, so it's obvious that her and her sister are close. I would think any major harm that came to them would be something on Katie's mind (in the original film), and/or if they all just disappeared she would notice. Perhaps if things were occurring simultaneously with the events of the first film, it would work, because we could assume each sister was too preoccupied to keep up with the other one's drama, but no - just in case you forgot the dates that the first film occurred, we get a full screen graphic telling us that a particular scene is 60 days before Micah's death. Now I might be a bit off but I believe the first film took place over 3 weeks (21 days), so we have at least 30 or so days in this film before anything major will occur. Thus, some of the scares just don't have that same sort of impact that the first one did.
Another decision that, to me, hampered some of the dread, was that in this one we have six stationary surveillance cameras around the house, plus a regular hand-held video camera (way to go, Paramount, you've become the first studio to rip off The Asylum). I really missed that "Oh no...." feeling that would occur whenever they cut to that shot of Micah and Katie's bedroom, because they spread themselves too thin here (plus have too many "Night #_" title cards followed by absolutely nothing happening). Hell, two of the cameras never once show anything scary, and it's obvious that the film is focused on the baby, so while stuff occasionally does happen in those other angles, it's really only when they cut to the nursery that I could feel myself getting tensed up the way I did in the original.
And they might luck out here, but I recognized the main actress! Sprague Grayden was on two of my favorite genre shows of the past decade: John Doe and Jericho, in addition to appearances in other stuff (the President's daughter on the last season of 24, for example). Part of what made the original work so well is that I truly believed these were real people. Obviously not being menaced by ghosts, but I 100% thought that Micah and Katie (their real names, by the way) were a real couple. Not the case here - it's the girl from Jericho playing someone named Kristy. So that was a bummer - luckily neither show was exactly a Nielsen darling so it's possible many folks won't recognize her.
But I'm guessing all most folks care about is being scared, and I'm happy to report that in this department the film is a success. There are at least three moments that caused me to jump or yell, and the final scenes (you know, when you can finally get the feeling that something truly bad might happen) are just as unnerving and creepy as the ones in the original. The story here is paper-thin, and involves some ret-conning of the first film's narrative that is kind of cool but also sort of diminishes the film's power, but it doesn't make it any less of a BOO! moment when Kristy gets pulled away from her baby, or when her husband tries to find her and the kid in the basement.
I also loved trying to find the scares, hoping for the sort of "whoa... did I just see that?" subtle scares that the first one excelled at (shadow on the door). I swear, my eyes never stopped darting around, looking for things in the background or whatever. It's definitely a sequel that not only counts on you seeing the original, but sort of uses that familiarity to its advantage at times (it's funny how the entire theater goes "ohhhhh...." when the first night falls - the horror movie equivalent of Kramer making his first appearance in an episode of Seinfeld).
But more often than not nothing would happen, and day would come without incident. Thus, I felt myself relaxing too often in the film's first hour or so. It also takes a while to get to the first real scare, which sort of makes sense in the prequel side of things, but I mean, come on guys - we know the gimmick this time. That's going to make repeat viewings less enticing - now I know where the jumps are, and I'm not going to be creeped out to make up for it.
Judging from the reactions, I'm in the minority for not thinking it's just as good as the original. That's fine by me, and I hope the film is a huge success. Most of my issues are likely to not even be noticed by a huge chunk of the audience, and even if they do that doesn't necessarily mean they'll agree. It's a damn fine time at the movies and perfect Halloween fare (and not in 3D, yay!*); but to me it was just a bit too similar and not as thoughtfully executed as its predecessor.
What say you?
*Fans of Katie's, er, assets, might wish it WAS in 3D during a key scene in a pool, if you catch my meaning (which is: she has a great rack).