Movie Review - Paranormal Activity 2 (***1/2)


Paranormal Activity 2.  90 mins.  R.  Directed by Tod Williams.  Written by Michael R. Perry. Starring Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden.
Rushing into movie theaters a mere year after the first movie scared audiences silly to the tune of about $107 million, Paranormal Activity 2 appears, at first glance, to be a cheap, hurried sequel aimed to grab a quick buck before the next hot horror franchise takes its place on the pop cultural radar.  Thoughts of The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows and Saw 2-6 spring to mind.  I'll admit I was not expecting much from Paranormal 2, but it surprised me.  And it scared me.  It's a smart sequel, expanding on the story, improving on the key elements, but giving audiences the same style of scares that they enjoyed in the first film.  It is that rare thing: a sequel just as good as, if not better, than the original.
This time around, the action takes place two months before the events of the first film, when Micah Sloat was (spoiler alert!) killed by the demon that possessed his girlfriend, Katie.  The story follows Katie's sister's and her family, who have a one year-old boy named Hunter.  After a series of break-ins, the family installs security cameras all around the house.  Strange things start happening - especially in the baby's room.  It get progressively creepier, and then all hell breaks loose at the end.
One of the great things about Paranormal Activity 2 is that it operates as both a sequel and a prequel.  Micah and Katie are back, and their story from the first movie is given more context.  The inclusion of the security camera footage is smart - we're no longer confined to the bedroom, and can see things all over the house.  Also, the scary stuff doesn't just happen at night this time around.  The first movie would let the audience rest easy during the daytime scenes because the bad stuff only happened at night.  Paranormal Activity 2 doesn't let the audience get away that easy.  Oh, and there's a basement.  Needless to say, the end of the movie takes place in that basement and it was so nerve-racking that I found myself looking to the corner of the screen and, yes, even partially covering my eyes at one point.
The main characters don't squabble as much here as Micah and Katie did in the first movie so it's a little less annoying on that front, but the sequel can be a tad repetitive with the scare sequences.  Each "Night" features the same sequence of shots: pool, front door, kitchen, baby's room.  I wish director Tod Williams had mixed it up a bit to keep the audience on their toes more.  But don't worry - you'll be on edge frequently, especially whenever that aural rumbling occurs when the demon is present - you can just feel your body tense up.  Paranormal Activity 2 is genuinely scary - better than almost any haunted house, and well worth a trip to your local theater this Halloween.

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