So, you’re an incorporeal entity of some sort, ghost or demon or whatnot, and you want something from a human family. (Never mind what you want; that would be a spoiler.) People don’t know you exist; they refuse to believe you can exist. How easy would it be to waltz into their nice suburban home and grab what you desire?
Not easy, apparently. Not at all. Instead, you start by banging around in the cellar. Knocking the occasional pot off the kitchen rack. Making the mobile in the baby’s room turn by itself. Gradually, you escalate to bigger stuff such as slamming a door. An observer can only conclude that you, the source of paranormal activity, are hemmed in by all sorts of protoplasmic rules and regulations. Either that or you just enjoy messing with people.
Wait, no — that’s the makers of this movie. Love them or hate them — and many do the latter — the genius of movies like Paranormal Activity and its sequel is that they get viewers off balance.
When we see a slasher or a zombie movie, or even a typical action flick, we know the rules of physics and psychology don’t apply. Those of us who are horror fans can witness all sorts of hideous mayhem — Saw 3D, anyone? — and still sleep fine.
But watching this film, with its long, faux-documentary scenes of the Rey family going about its boring business — turning off the lights, putting the baby down for the night — we can’t help being lulled into a sense of order and security. Pans aren’t supposed to rattle. Doors can’t slam when there’s no wind. Right? If they do, something’s wrong. And it doesn’t matter that we know it was accomplished with Foley effects and wires.
Movies like the Paranormal Activities are experiments in reconditioning jaded moviegoers to experience film the way they did when they were too young to trust stuff on the screen to stay there. Some are amenable to the manipulation and some aren’t, and some would simply rather not pay for it. But to those who actively enjoy being teased and tormented by their own fluctuating sense of what’s real, I can say this: Paranormal Activity 2 is the rare sequel that’s as good as the original.
It’s actually a prequel. When we last saw Katie (Katie Featherston), the camera-shy protagonist of Paranormal Activity, she was not herself. This film takes us back several months to explore the parallel story of Katie’s sister, Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden), who, as Katie mentioned in the first movie, also had paranormal experiences as a child. Now she has a family: a husband (Brian Boland), a teenage stepdaughter (Molly Ephraim), a toddler and a dog. Their story is told entirely through images captured by a camcorder (originally bought for Baby’s arrival) and security cameras the Reys train on their home after a mysterious break-in.
Unlike the makers of the recent horror mockumentary The Last Exorcism, director Tod Williams doesn’t make the mistake of using the sequel’s higher budget to pretty it up. He understands the power of poorly framed shots: They withhold information. The actors playing the family are low key and natural, even when the plot lurches into its hokey home stretch, and our suspended disbelief returns in full force.
Even after that, you may find yourself ill at ease when you’re alone in the kitchen and hear a clinking sound. But, hey, this is reality. You know the rules. It’s the wind. Just the wind.
* Running time: 91 mins.
* Rated: R