Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Paranormal Activity 2

I would very much like to hold it again...

Remember way back when I said the reason I was excited to see Paranormal Activity 2 was because I thought it would be a movie I could review but not gush over? I am pleased to report that PA2 was just mediocre enough to garner a few pages of honest reporting out of this Cinemerator.
Now, the eternal question- where's my dinner where to begin?
Let me start out by saying that the reason the first Paranormal Activity was as good as it was is because it created a new genre, and with that, a new method of suspense: long, homemade shots that take a long time for something to happen. The reason that is so suspenseful is because you're waiting for something, anything to happen, so that when something does happen, no matter how big or how small it may be, the shock is magnified tenfold. Tenfold, I tell you! [monocle]
Now, obviously, the sequel is done in exactly the same regard, except it tried a little too hard to up the ante. This time, instead of having one camera pointed at just the bed for night-time footage (where the really scary stuff happens), this family has HD security camera footage that captures everything. Let me attempt to explain the story.
Warning! Spoilers.
Ok. The film opens up with the teenage daughter filming some affluent family bringing home a new baby. Yeah, the baby's cute, ok, whatever. It then abruptly cuts to some time later, where the house has had a tragic break-in, where nothing was stolen, only the place is totally trashed. 'Let's whip out the camera and get this hullabaloo on TAPE!' the teenage girl probably thought to herself whilst assessing the damage. Yeah, ok, place was broken into, great. Ghosts? I can't say. Even now, I can't say, because it's never specified. For all I know somebody just wanted to break in to the place. I don't blame them, the place is huge and awesome, plus they have a baby, and babies fetch a high price if you know where to go. Anyway the place is broken into, 'we need security cams up in here,' the dad thought. So they get super duper high tech cameras put into every room of the house, and now they feel a little safer. Time passes, and the mom says that her sister is coming over to see the baby. Nothing ghostly has happened yet, by the by, and we're in about 20 minutes to the movie. That's when the movie drops a bomb on me- the mothers sister is Katie Featherston. I did not see that coming and momentarily freaked out. Yeah, the date they give us (they do the same thing they did in the first one, you know, 'Night #1', or whatever) in this movie is August of '06, and when I saw Katie, I was like holy shit, is she still possessed? What's the deal? Is Micah dead, WHY CAN'T I REMEMBER WHEN THE FIRST ONE TOOK PLACE AM I NOT SMART ENOUGH FOR THIS MOVIE but then a couple of scenes later, Micah shows up. After the first few frames he occupies, text pops up on the screen- '60 days before the death of Micah Sloat'. Ok. That explains something significant- Paranormal Activity 2 takes place within the sixty days preceding the first movie. Ok, good thing I saw the first one. So, the movie goes on, and the first ghost activity you see comes in at about minute 45. Don't get me wrong, there's some creepy stuff before that, but stuff starts to move on its own by about halfway through the second act. The movie goes on, and the family starts to get worried about creepy stuff that's been happening, falling pans, that sort of thing, and they start to realize that their maid (a hilarious Mexican), knows something is going on and is afraid for the baby, so she starts to bless the house with weird candles and stuff. The family is not having anything of it and fire the maid slash nanny slash ghostbuster. The mother tells Katie (her sister) that weird stuff has started to happen, and Katie (as she says more in detail in the first movie) says you need to leave it alone or else it'll never go away. The mother tries very hard to forget about it, but the teenage girl won't stop harping on it. She researches ghosts and demons and there's a scene that essentially mimics a scene from the first movie, which is basically exposition about the difference between ghosts and demons. Something new that they throw into the mix is that sometimes people will make bargains with demons in exchange for wealth and power, and the teenage daughter believes that her great grandmother made such a deal, got really wealthy, but didn't pay attention to the catch- the catch being, the demon gets the first born son, and their new baby is the first son born to that family since her great grandmother made the bargain, if that's what really happened (and we should recognize this as fact if it's said through exposition, so the fact is that the grandma did make a deal with a demon). So the plot starts to thicken and there's a really sweet scene (this is kind of a spoiler so watch out) where the mother is like calmly reading a magazine in the kitchen for about 45 seconds and then all the drawers and cupboards (those words are hard to spell) all just OPEN it's awesome and she freaks out. Anyway, the climax is the mother gets dragged down the stairs one night and essentially becomes possessed by the demon much in the same way Katie became possessed in the first movie. Ok, tie in. I can dig it. After that, she becomes really weird and the family goes back to the maid they fired, who was right all along. They bring in the maid and the maid says the only way to get rid of the demon is to transfer it out of the mothers body into a blood relative. A blood relative. Katie. That's how it ties in to the first one- the demon that haunts Katie and Micah was transferred by the father of the family to save the mother. I won't tell you the ending, because it's actually kind of cool, but there it is. That's basically the plot.
The end? Nope, you're not getting out that easy.
Ok, so this movie met my expectations exactly. It was precisely as good as I thought it was going to be, but some of the pros and cons I thought it'd have were not there, if that makes sense (like I care if you understand what I'm talking about) [car honk].
First of all- let me throw something out there that I'll attempt to justify- this movie is just as suspenseful as the first one, but half as scary. The thing that made the first one really scary was the fact that nobody had every seen anything like it before. It made it look super, super real, and all the sequel is is extrapolation on the film style. Shoestring budget, that kind of thing. Trying to make it look real, but there it is. This movie had 200 times the budget of the first one ($3 million divided by $15 thousand), and you can tell. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't take anything away from the movie, but it certainly doesn't add any of the charm the first one had to it.
Another thing is the set-up. Two-thirds of the movie is 'found' security camera footage, and the other third is the teenage daughter shooting family movies, and they cut the footage together accordingly. This was done in an attempt to give the movie the same feel as the first one and intensify it by adding different still perspectives, making the viewer wait for something to happen, and more often than not, nothing happened, and that made the movie more annoying than suspenseful, at times. 
I say 'at times' because there are some pretty good moments of suspense in this movie. It is not as good or as innovative as the first one by a long shot, but the way the movie is made will, no matter what, give it a suspenseful atmosphere that is an awesome experience in theatres. What I said about the first one is just as true for it's sequel- see it in theatres, because it's no good on a TV. 
Here's a thing I've got to talk about- the dialogue. Like the first one, you can tell much of the dialogue was improv'd. Here's the thing, and I want you to read carefully- the dialogue in Paranormal Activity 2 almost gives away the secret that this is all fake. None of the characters are half as endearing as Katie and Micah were in the PA1. The dialogue in the first one was awesome and real because the characters didn't have to worry about tying it in to a sequel. The dialogue in PA2 needs to be specific because it needs to complete the story of the first. There isn't as much exposition as the first movie and that is intentional- the director tried to make the story come full circle through the dialogue instead of through characters commenting on what's happening and that is the fatal flaw of Paranormal Activity 2. As a devout movie goer, I pay a little more attention to the story and therefore can appreciate how it all ties in to each other, but as a man-about-town looking for a good scare, I could give a shit about character development and exposition- I want to see some damn demons. These movies are scary because of the scary stuff that happens to these people and the reactions they have to what's happening, not how it all is bound together by some elaborate mythos that will haunt your dreams because it's so mind-warping. There's one scene where the dad has to leave in a hurry and the daughter doesn't want him to go because she's scared and their conversation as he hurries out the door is hilarious. 'I'll be right back honey I'm sorry but I really need to go, I'll just be gone two hours. You can handle this, you're an adult, it's only two hours. Watch out for the baby. I'll be back in two hours.' And that's just a taste. See what I mean? I guess that was a bad example, try this instead- in the first movie, all the director had to say to get good dialogue out of the actors was anything along the lines of 'freak out'. In this movie, the director had to make sure what they were saying made sense and connected to the previous movie, which is a restriction placed on the actors that will not get you good lines, but more importantly, it won't make the movie look realistic.
The movie itself is very, very slow- slower than the first one by a mile. The first one was slow because there needed to be a buildup of tension with the demon, you know, one thing happening the first night and then it doubles and doubles and doubles night after night until the satisfying climax. Paranormal Activity 2 has no arc. There's no huge buildup of demon activity- for example, the first time the family says 'I think we've got a ghost', I thought to myself, 'no you don't. It's the wind.' whereas with the first one I was thinking 'put the camera down and get an exorcist you're all gonna die'.
Here's another thing- this movie will not make sense to anyone who hasn't seen the first one. That kind of thing didn't matter at all to PA1, but PA2 revolves entirely around how it connects to the first movie. It'll still be enjoyable to newcomers, but does not present anything new.
As far as the actual movie goes, I enjoyed it. I would actually go as far to say that I really enjoyed it- but this isn't a movie that I'm gonna go out and buy, because it's not that kind of movie. The reason I like movies like this is because it's enjoyable to see in theatres, and you're hard pressed to find a movie that isn't made with DVD sales on their minds the entire time. I have to say, it's not as good as the first one, but it's still pretty good. I recommend seeing it in theatres before it's gone, it's worth it.

I award Paranormal Activity 2 two and a half out of four squirts. 

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