Movie review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Katie Featherston, Gabriel Liotta
Director: Tod Williams
The first Paranormal Activity film was a phenomenon. Despite a tiny budget and a lack of effects and gore, it not only got to the top of the box office in many regions but managed to garner a reasonable critical reaction too. It was inevitable then that there would be a sequel. The cynic in me sees this as studios cashing in on a pretty incredible return from the first film (it cost $100,000 and made $100 million.) I also have the horrible reminder of watching the first half of Blair Witch 2 rattling in my head so I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing this “prequel.”
I have to admit that I didn’t see the first film although it is difficult to be a film fan and not know about it. Having seen this though, has made me want to go back and watch the first one.
The premise of both films is pretty simple. In PA2, Kirsti, the sister of Katie, the main protagonist from the first film starts to experience strange happenings. These centre around their infant son, Hunter, and it seems Kirsti and her sister know more about the unusual activity than they care to admit to their partners.
As mentioned, Paranormal Activity 2 is a prequel to the events of the first film, although it cleverly references and bookends it’s story, explaining some of the events but also building a “mythos” that could easily carry on into a third film (and I suspect there will be one if this film is a success.)
The “scares” themselves aren’t that scary consisting of bumps, shadows and doors that close by themselves. The clever trick this film uses is that it is very improvised and real from the dialogue to the way the film is shot and edited. Most of the film is shot by security cameras and the family themselves on handheld cameras and while this could be cheap and a bit dull there are moments when the long fixed shots add to the tension. As a viewer you are not sure where you should be looking and find yourself seeing shadows where there aren’t any.
The handheld shots are used to great effect in a climatic basement scene, where a desperate search for the missing infant is aided by the camera’s night vision.
But the biggest shocks often come from the power of a shared silence, a good reason to see this at the cinema rather than at home. It was great to sit in a cinema where people were, on the whole, pretty silent, apart from the screams of which there were a few. It felt like a shared experience in a way all good spooky films should be. Screams were often followed by laughter. I heard one audience member at the end of the film jokingly berating his girlfriend for bruising and deafening him.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a good old fashioned ghost story that manages to be scary in the moment but also linger in the memory for a while afterwards. If there is a Paranormal Activity 3 and it matches the quality of this, I will gladly enjoy the silence and the screams again.