[Contains pool-cleaning SPOILERS!!!]
It was easy to forgive a lot of Paranormal Activity’s rougher edges on the grounds that it was written/directed by a first-timer, and filmed over the course of a week, with unknown actors ad-libbing most of their lines… Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), on the other hand, boasts three credited screenwriters (including Michael R. Perry, a veteran of American Gothic and Millennium), so I was disappointed to discover that this prequel/semi-sequel actually had clunkier dialogue, flimsier characters, and sloppier plotting than its predecessor, while basically retelling the same story.
Although they cunningly get around the old “Why are they still filming this?” question that plagues many found-footage flicks by having an early house-trashing “burglary” prompt the main characters to set up security cameras throughout their house, I found the way that the footage was edited together quite frustrating. This is going to sound stupid, but I was annoyed that it was assembled to fit horror movie conventions, rather than as a straight documentary of the actual events occurring in the house, in chronological order… again, the first movie could get away with being a little more subjective, because there was only one camera and it tended to go wherever the main characters were… whereas here, there were enough cameras around (either hand-held or wall-mounted) to give a more omniscient and objective overview. I understand that there were constraints on the production, in time-and-money terms, but it still might have been cool to have a little split-screen action going on, so we could see what was thudding or crashing off-screen, as well as the freaked out residents’ reactions to it.
Speaking of whom: Sprague Grayden plays ‘Kristi Rey’, younger sister of ‘Katie’ (Katie Featherston) from the first flick, and mother to a new-born baby boy named ‘Hunter’, who a pesky demon is attempting to claim as payment for a bargain struck by their grandmother… we know this because Kristi’s step-daughter, ‘Ali’ (Molly Ephraim)*, decides to research demons online, and then states this explanation flat-out to her boyfriend ‘Brad’ (Seth Ginsberg). It’s one of the clumsiest and laziest attempts at backstory mythology I’ve ever seen… and the film-makers were too cheap to even give us a glimpse at this unimpeachable source that she’s citing (in fact, the laptop screen was completely blank, as if it’s turned off), so we’re just expected to take her word for it, and balls to ambiguity. Meh. It’s also rather sad to see that the writers retained the gender split of the first movie and ran with it, so the three (adult) male characters are all smirking sceptics, and the three female family members are all credulous scaredy-cats! Of course, there was also their Latina nanny/ housekeeper ‘Martine’ (Vivis Cortez), who couldn’t speak English but knew all about fighting bad spirits with her ethnic-stereotype folk magick… but the less said about that, the better.
Which brings us to another problem… there are way too many characters here, and not enough personality traits to go around. One of the strengths of the first flick was that it centered on the increasing tension between Katie and her bratty boyfriend ‘Micah’ (Micah Sloat), which fed the demon until it was strong enough to possess the former and murder the latter… whereas here the tension is too scattered and sporadic… and there’s a big gap in the narrative where the first movie is supposed to slot in, so it isn’t even really a complete story in itself, so much as an unsatisfying bookend for its superior progenitor. The sequence where the husband (Brian Boland) conspires to save his wife and children by passing the curse on to his unsuspecting sister-in-law could actually have been pretty chilling in a more conventional movie… but since it happens in the margins of the screen/soundtrack here, it loses a lot of its potential power… which also undermines the potentially poetic “payback” ending.
On the plus-side, there were several genuinely creepy moments, and a few heart-stopping jump scares… plus plenty gratuitous cleavage, which is apparently just as essential to the franchise’s success as any of the supernatural elements. And I did get a mean-spirited chuckle out of the little text-based “death clock” that appeared over footage of Micah, to announce that he only had sixty days left to live. Tee hee. I’ll probably end up watching the third and fourth instalments eventually, because I want to see Katie continue her super-powered rampage… but I doubt I’ll ever pay real money to see any subsequent sequels at the cinema.
* In Ali’s first scene, she’s talking to the camera as if it were her baby step-brother, and she warns him to stay out of her bedroom “unless I invite you… in which case it’s going to be the best day of your life.” Am I the only one who thought that sounded kinda incestuous?