In his review for Paranormal Activity 2—a movie that insists on informing you what day it is every so often à la The Shining (1980)—Roger Ebert muses, “along about Day #12 I’m thinking, why are these people still here?” My own question at about the same point in the movie was, “Why am I still here?” If I hadn’t been reviewing this stupefyingly popular sequel to last year’s almost as stupefyingly big hit, I assure you I would have bailed long before that. I understood—at least to a degree—the popularity of the first film, since it was slightly novel. And the whole fake-documentary subgenre seems to have a built-in appeal to audiences who have been conditioned by reality TV to like this sort of thing. Well, this movie is pretty much just more of the same.
Actually, Paranormal Activity 2 isn’t a sequel, since 90 percent of it is the lead-in to the first movie, making it mostly a prequel. I suppose calling it Paranormal Activity 0.10 was out of the question, since the only person I can think of who included a zero in his numbering system was composer Anton Bruckner. (He even had a symphony no. 00, and the idea still didn’t catch on.) Paranormal Activity 2 is about the virtually identical haunting of Kristi (Sprague Grayden), the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston) from the first film. Paranormal Activity 2 clues us in early on with the ominous title that we are 60 days away from the death of Micah Sloat, meaning 60 days from the ending of Paranormal Activity. At this point in the movie, it feels more like you’re 60 days from the ending of Paranormal Activity 2.
Once again, somebody is being haunted by a demon, and once again the demon seems less like the Prince of Darkness than the King of the Whoopee Cushion. Maybe it’s just me, but I expect a little more panache out of supernatural agencies than playing boogie-boogie-boogie by making a robotic swimming-pool cleaner climb out of the pool on a nightly basis to disconcert its owners. That—along with terrifying a toddler, spooking a German shepherd, locking people out of the house and upsetting the very religious Latino housekeeper—seems to be about the extent of old Scratch’s repertoire. Oh, at one point he gets out in that kitchen and rattles those pots and pans. He does finally get around to some serious mayhem that’s apt to seem more impressive than it is simply because nothing has happened for about 70 minutes.
The argument is that all this is really scary due to the movie’s style-free approach of using recorded footage supposedly taken from a closed-circuit securty system. This makes it all feel “real.” If that lights your wick, fine. Personally, I think it’s merely dull, cheap and flat. The advent of do-it-yourself filmmaking (here co-opted by a studio) has devolved into a way in which people with little or no discernible talent can be “filmmakers.” It’s a bit like torture porn, only now it’s the audience who is being tortured with interminable takes of uninteresting characters saying uninteresting things with substandard sound and lighting.
I will concede that this particular example is shrewdly conceived to tie into the first picture in such a way that it not only provides an opportunity for a sequel, but for yet another prequel. Now that’s planning. Granted another prequel would probably have to involve “found” home-movie footage, but why balk at that? Don’t kid yourself; there will be more of these. With a reported budget of under $3 million dollars, Paranormal Activity 2 made a profit before Friday was over. There is obviously a market for these movies. It may mystify me, but it’s there. Rated R for some language and brief violent material.