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Prequel ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ Deftly Exploits a Baby as Emotional Scare Tactic

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Average: 4.5 (6 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – From its first “The Blair Witch Project”-like film in Sept. 2009, “Paranormal Activity” now reigns as one of the most profitable films ever made based on return on investment. But just a short 13 months later, “Paranormal Activity 2” returns to theaters with content and panic tactics that are much of the same.

That said, the main difference is the film’s masterful exploitation of one of the most emotionally scary instruments you could imagine: a baby. Because the second film was marketed as such an enigma and people typically know very little about the new film going into it, the other surprise is that “Paranormal Activity 2” is actually a prequel rather than a sequel.

Paranormal Activity 2
“Paranormal Activity 2”.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

“Paranormal Activity,” which was released on Sept. 25, 2009, had a production budget of $15,000 with a worldwide box-office gross of $193 million. Paramount/DreamWorks acquired the U.S. rights to “Paranormal Activity” for $350,000. “Paranormal Activity 2,” which has a much larger estimated budget of $2.75 million, is again written by Oren Peli with the addition of Michael R. Perry.

This time, though, the sequel is directed by Tod Williams instead of Oren Peli. Katie Featherston reprises her role as Katie in “Paranormal Activity 2,” but she actually plays a relatively minor, supporting role. Micah Sloat, who received the ultimate unfortunate ending in the first film, only briefly appears in the second.

“Paranormal Activity 2” makes you keenly aware that it’s showing Micah just 60 days before his death in the first movie. In the prequel, Micah is a soon-to-be dead man and doesn’t know it.

This time around, fans of the new franchise are more aware that this film actually is scripted movie. For the first innovative film, the most common question people asked was: “Was this movie actually real?” The appearance of a documentary could have easily hoodwinked you into thinking the dialogue wasn’t scripted and no special effects were used.

While audiences are smarter now and will come back for the prequel to be pleasantly frightened once more, “Paranormal Activity 2” again capitalizes on what it did well the first time around. But the “again” factor plays as a double-edged sword.

On one hand, again using what you did successfully before hopefully assures renewed success. On the other, paying consumers demand bigger and better for a follow-up film and are typically disappointed on a second go. In “Paranormal Activity 2,” the film does just enough “again” to hook you back in the way it did before. All the while, it strikes a balance between the “new” you haven’t seen before that is effective once again.

In the prequel, the film appears to capture the reality of just a few people and you do become emotionally connected to them. Unlike in many other films, the “stars” of this film are your typical everyman and everywoman rather than big-name, big-paycheck celebrities.

One of the most important barometers of success in a horror film is feeling connected to a character before he or she dies. The second film scores high here by bringing you deep into their personal worlds while limiting the amount of characters you need to know.

While the new plot of “Paranormal Activity 2” is a modern version of classics including 1982’s “Poltergeist” and 1973’s “The Exorcist” (as well as 2010’s lesser-known “The Last Excorcism”), the new demon film neglects one critical element: the struggle to exorcise the demon, leave the house or even try to combat the paranormal.

Horror films typically cause audiences to ask common-sense questions in which the characters in the film don’t. Why would you go through that scary door? Why don’t you turn on the light? Why don’t you call the cops? Why don’t you run away? Why doesn’t that guy just freakin’ die already?

In “Paranormal Activity 2,” you might find your innate common sense going bananas. Why don’t they go to a hotel? Why don’t they discuss leaving the house? And if they really do believe they’re being demonized, why don’t they call in a real exorcist? (The dad briefly attempts an exorcism with a cross, but it’s weak.)

Also, “Paranormal Activity 2” is much too… paranormal. With a predictable setup of a happy life on a sunny day, we see a gradual transition into baby toys turning by themselves, clanking pots falling off hooks, cabinets flinging open and eventually a baby sliding up his cradle in his sleep.

And after that transition is made, the film becomes all paranormal all the time without the demons ever giving us a breather.

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For the thrill seekers who are willing to suspend reality (or truly do believe in the paranormal), though, the overly abundant paranormal feast is something you’ll deliciously devour.

The “build” of the film does effectively glue your eyes to the screen and your derriere to your seat while keeping your heart pulsing like you’re running the Chicago Marathon. And you do effectively stay mesmerized into the tunnel vision of the film without being aware of the real world around you.

“Paranormal Activity 2,” which is written by Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry and directed by Tod Williams, stars Katie Featherston. The film is rated “R” for some language and brief violent material with a run time of 91 minutes. The film opened on Oct. 22, 2010.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief and publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2010 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

Anonymous's picture

Loved it. Reviewer: There WAS an attempt to exorcise the demon

Not sure why the reviewer said that.
The maid gave a good try and dad sure did later on. What movie did you see?

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Weak attempts

Anonymous wrote:
Loved it. Reviewer: There WAS an attempt to exorcise the demon.
Not sure why the reviewer said that.
The maid gave a good try and dad sure did later on. What movie did you see?

They didn’t bring in a real “professional”. The maid just spewed smoke in the air. That’s not an exorcism.

And the dad briefly tried using a cross, but the attempt overall was weak and a “specialist” wasn’t brought in. In general, my point is that they didn’t try very hard to tackle the situation. Still, I’ve made an update in the review to clarify. Thanks for pointing this out.

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