The most supernatural thing about “Paranormal Activity 2” is that it’s scarier and more effective than the original. It’s little wonder Lionsgate backed off and pushed “Saw 3D” back a week; it’s doubtful the tired Jigsaw franchise can compete with anything this innovative. More of a prequel and eventual epilogue to the first film, it’s a well crafted effort that supplies all the shocks and exposition viewers are expecting — and then some.
“Paranormal Activity 2” begins in a fairly benign manner, with Katie’s sister and her husband bringing home their newborn baby Hunter. As the event is recorded for posterity, we’re treated to a tour of the house as well as introduced to Hunter’s stepsister and his nanny. These prove to be important scenes; they quickly set up the characters and family dynamics, as well as the layout of the house — all prove to play an important role in the demonic events to come.
Quicker than you can say “Amityville Horror”, strange things begin to occur. The home is ransacked and vandalized overnight, yet nothing is missing except a necklace made by Katie as a gift to her sister. The father hires a security firm to set up cameras covering the house, but instead of reassuring the family, it only frightens them more as the recordings show an evil entity has become an unwanted house guest. As things spiral rapidly out of control, eerie questions arise. Why is the demon fixated on their young son Hunter? How do present events correlate with Katie and her sister’s past? But even more chilling is the price to be paid to banish the demon, and a terrible decision must be made.
The biggest complaint about the first film was that it took too long to really get started, and that most of the scares never really came until the latter half of the movie. Director Tod Williams seems to have taken that criticism to heart, as he swiftly establishes the film’s topography before letting the family settle in and unleashing Hell upon them. The script is credited to Michael Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, and they rise to the challenge of forging a screenplay that’s both frightening and clever at the same time. The scares are bigger with plenty of psychological tension thrown in as the family’s emotional security crumbles with each new assault by the demon. But the writers are also savvy enough to add in some truly funny scenes, as well as some throwaway references to “Highlander” and “Clash of the Titans” to lighten the mood. Their explanation for the demon’s presence, hinting at a Faustian pact, is a touch of genius that adds brains to the film’s scary brawn.
Katie Featherston returns to reprise her character, linking the two films together as well as providing the means for a third film. Micah Sloat cameos for two scenes, but they’re important ones as we learn where he gets his sudden urge to buy the camera used in the first movie. The rest of the cast play their roles well, but behave in understandably predictable fashion. The number of families adjusting their lives to raising a baby and dealing with a supernatural squatter are few to none, so any faux pas they commit are forgivable.
Sequels that are better than the original are rarer than the Coelacanth, most are usually exhausted retreads, or try to inject new ideas that don’t mesh with the original story. “Paranormal Activity 2” avoids all those traps, ramping up the fright factor while illuminating the before and after events of the original. Jigsaw may have his last act, but it’s a demon that’ll get the last laugh this Halloween.
Tod Williams (director) / Michael R. Perry, Christopher B. Landon, Tom Pabst (screenplay)
CAST: Katie Featherston … Katie