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Paranormal Activity 2′: Bigger budget, less horror

Brandy Cerne | Tuesday, October 26, 2010

After hearing that a sequel was in the works for last year’s surprise horror hit “Paranormal Activity,” expectations of many were low. After all, part of the appeal of the original film was the fact that it was made on a shoestring budget of $11,000, yet still managed to scare audiences more than most horror films in recent years. A sequel with amped-up funding, studio supervision and a different director could not possibly live up to its predecessor, right?

Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean that “Paranormal Activity 2” isn’t full of frightening moments that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. The chilly scenes just don’t have the full impact or originality of those in the first film.

More of a prequel than a sequel, “Paranormal Activity 2” takes place a few weeks before the happenings of the first film. The story follows the unusual occurrences at the original main character Katie’s sister’s house. After a supposed robbery, Kristi (Sprague Graydon) and her husband Dan (Brian Bolden) set up a surveillance system in different rooms around the house. Without giving too much away, since both films are best enjoyed with a spoiler-free mind, Kristi starts to get spooked. Dan is reluctant to believe anything paranormal is going on, but when his teenage daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim), starts to investigate, the signs become too large to ignore.  Adding to the stakes are a new baby, Hunter, and a pet dog.

Directed by Tod Williams, the story unfolds through the combination of surveillance footage and handheld family video recorder, which is similar to the first film but allows the audience to see even more of the house than before. Now, it’s unclear where danger lies. It could be in any of the rooms, and it becomes impossible to resist combing over every shot for something disturbing. This waiting and building of suspense is what works so well for the films. “Paranormal Activity 2” follows the pattern of the original by starting slowly, but never really seems to build up to as quite a large and terrifying ending as it should (and as the first film did).

There is less variety in the scares of this film. The audience already knows there will be slamming doors, but there needs to be something new to get under the audience’s skin even more. Warning: there is a basement involved, but these scenes were not as horrifying as they could have been. Just the thought of a basement in a film like this is terrifying, but one comes away from it wanting more.

Granted, “Paranormal Activity 2” still delivers plenty of screams and jumps, but thinking back to some of the scenes in the original can still be quite disturbing, and these new scares just aren’t as enduring once the film is over.

One of the main reasons people are so scared by these films is that with the low quality cameras and unrecognizable actors, one can start to believe that this could happen in any home. The thought of being home alone becomes much more frightening, as the danger comes from inside and seemingly without reason.

“Paranormal Activity 2” provides some explanation, which may have seemed like a good idea in moving the plot forward, but actually makes it less scary for the audience and takes away the idea that this can happen to anyone.

Still, “Paranormal Activity 2” is good fun and a suspenseful film that rises above many of the so-called horror films of today. It’s a sequel that actually works, and, while a downgrade from the original, is much better than expected.