Truly scary movies come along only once every several years. Or two years in a row, if you allowed last year's surprise blockbuster Paranormal Activity to get under your skin. Given that the low-budget horror movie went on to become the most profitable movie of all time (and also appeared on numerous "scariest movies" lists), no one should be surprised that Paramount invested in a sequel (if $3 million is even considered an investment in Hollywood) - and fast-tracked it to come out only a year later. While Paranormal Activity 2 duplicates the formula of the first film, the good news is that the movie is nearly as scary as the first one.
Some may fault Paranormal Activity 2 for being just like the original, but when it comes to horror movies, originality is not a major concern. Paramount could have invested more money and made a slicker sequel, but we all know how Blair Witch 2 ended up - it was a terrible, terrible movie and killed a potentially lucrative franchise.
No, Paramount not only played it safe with Paranormal Activity 2 but they also played it smartly, delivering to audiences what they knew worked. Though the setup is somewhat forced - after a "break-in," the victimized family installs security cameras throughout the house - the movie is a more-than-adequate sequel/prequel to the original. The story actually ties in very well (albeit with a few plot holes and inconsistencies), but more importantly new director Tod Williams maintains a constant level of adrenaline-pumping tension. Once Paranormal Activity 2 kicks into gear, your body will remain on alert throughout the remainder of the film.
It's hard to say for certain that Paranormal Activity 2 isn't as scary as the original, though on the surface that's exactly the case. You know what to expect, so when the mom gets dragged down the stairs or you see a shadow move across the floor or a loud bang echoes through the theater, the movie isn't as frightening. There are still some well executed scenes that will make you jump or make your hair stand on end, but the element of surprise is gone.
What it lacks in surprise it makes up for in suspense, however. It's not that Paranormal Activity 2 is more suspenseful than the first movie - it isn't - but since you know that at any second something bad could happen, you remain on the edge of your seat for most of the movie. You caution your body to be on alert and you won't relax until the screen turns black at the end of the movie. Not too many horror movies, let alone sequels, can do that.
The climax is immensely satisfying and scary, more so than in the original. The movie then nearly shoots itself in the foot by adding on an additional minute to wrap things up - which does feel rushed and unlike the rest of the picture - but its sins are forgivable.
If someone went and saw Paranormal Activity 2 having not seen the original, they might find it extremely terrifying. For those of us who are seeing it as a sequel, it still exceeds expectations. It isn't as good as the first movie, but most people expected it to be awful. It isn't. Paranormal Activity 2 is frightening, suspenseful and well made, which is more than can be said about most sequels. What more can you ask for?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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