DVD Release Date: February 8, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: October 22, 2010
Rating: R (for some language and brief violent material)
Genre: Suspense, Horror, Sequel
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Tod "Kip" Williams
Actors: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Vivis
There's nothing scarier than the prospect of a horror-movie sequel. Usually the film that spawned the sequel isn't so hot to begin with, and the diminishing returns expected with additional chapters make for the dullest filmgoing experiences.
Paranormal Activity, an unexpected hit just a year ago, already has a sequel of its own, and like the original film, it's got a few scares. Again, we watch a family terrorized by inexplicable, unseen forces.
The new film is set just before the events of the first film, allowing Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat), the main characters from Paranormal Activity, to reappear in the latest chapter for some key sequences. However, for most of the sequel, the primary characters are Katie's sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden); her husband, Daniel (Brian Boland); Daniel's teenage daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim); and their young son, Hunter. The four of them, along with a family dog, have just moved into a new home.
But there's another, unwanted guest in the house. It knocks things over when the family is out of the house. The returning couple, suspecting a break-in, has several security cameras installed, and they provide the vantage points and footage that comprise much of the film. We see clip after clip of the family pool at night. The next morning, the pool cleaner is on the pool deck rather than in the pool. How did it get there?
The pool cleaner is just an object, outside the home. But what about Hunter, the infant in his crib? Poor Hunter. All he can do is cry, which he does several times. Mom rushes in to see what's wrong. The dog is in the room, barking and standing at attention. The boy seems OK. But when mom's out of the room, the mobile above the crib starts to move by itself. The covers over the boy are slowly removed. An unseen force pulls the boy and lifts him out of the crib. Not OK.
The first person to recognize that all is not well in the home is the housekeeper, Martine (Vivis), who doesn't speak English but communicates her unease by burning incense and making the sign of the cross. The daughter, Ali, tells her dad that Martine is warding off "bad spirits" and allowing "good spirits" into the house, but Daniel is hostile toward such ideas. He posits rational explanations for numerous out-of-the-ordinary events—until the evidence becomes too overwhelming to deny.
The film suggests that the reason for the haunting is rooted in the childhood of Kristi and Katie, and raises the possibility that a deal with the devil may require the life of one of the characters. The film fails to explore this possibility after raising it.
How are we to deal with the evil forces at work in the film? Martine recognizes evil but takes precautions that don't appear to have any effect. They're superstitions. Sure, the cross is a powerful symbol, but it's the meaning of the cross that has power, not the object itself. And while it's nice to see the father turn from skeptic into a man who, although not a believer, is at least forced to reconsider his skepticism, the film offers nothing deeper than that. Still, Paranormal Activity 2 at least tries, in its own ineffective way, to show that religion, though poorly understood, might have some power to confront and overcome whatever's haunting the house and its residents.
That said, the sequel feels less serious than the first film. Several long stretches of quiet footage build to minor incidents that can easily be explained away as something other than the result of evil spirits. This approach is less intense than that of the first Paranormal Activity, and it lulls viewers into thinking that nothing of consequence will happen—until the film takes a more serious, violent turn.
Is there a broader point to these stories? If so, it hasn't been made clear. The filmmakers may be saving it for yet another sequel (which is sure to come), although after two films with the same style and approach to the material, one can't help but wonder if the filmmakers have figured out the point of their own story, or if they're just stringing viewers along.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at mailto:email@example.com. CAUTIONS:
Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; "poop"; discussion of where a baby was conceived after "mommy seduced daddy"; "holy crap"; more than five "f" words, and one "effing awesome"; crude reference to female sex organ; "s-it.
Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Drinks are offered, with the admonition, "don't get wasted."
Sex/Nudity: A wife in a bubble bath invites her husband in and makes reference to sex; a teen boy kisses a girl and jokes that the spirits in the house are "horny."
Violence/Crime: A dead bird; a woman is violently attacked by an unseen spirit; a man's neck is snapped; a woman is attacked; a child is menaced by a spirit.
Religion/Morals: Martine engages in rituals to cleanse the house of "bad spirits" and allow in "good spirits"; the husband kicks Martine out, saying he "doesn't believe in that [religious] stuff" and doesn't want any of it in his house; he exaggerates by saying Martine had been "slaughtering goats" as part of her rituals; daughter tells her father they should hold a séance; dad says he doesn't want to hear "any more haunted house crap"; daughter speculates that the house has a demon rather than a ghost; discussion of the possibility that a relative made a bargain with the devil that will cost the life of the firstborn male in the family; Martine offers the husband a crucifix, but he asks what he's supposed to do with it.