Thursday 4 November 2010

Scare Necessities

Paranormal Activity 2 2010 US
Directed by Tod Williams
Playing at all good cinemas now!

Warning: Actively paranormal spoilers
reside within the soul of this blog review!

It was with a certain sense of trepidation that I found myself, somewhat belatedly, attending a screening of the second in the Paranormal Activity franchise last weekend. I was anxious, not because of any anxiety about being scared by the on-screen demonic shenanigans (the first one wasn’t scary and so I, quite rightly it turns out, didn’t really expect to be scared by the second one) but because I do have a grudging sense of respect and, dare I say it, affection for the first movie in the series.

It doesn’t matter, you see, whether I am scared or not (being as I’m quite used to the sense of timing used by these kinds of films to try to elicit a jump-scare reaction in the audience), because the audience I had been with (at the cinema) were quite clearly scared out of their wits. And even if they weren’t, the acting that this style of “first person shooter cam” movie elicits from its cast is almost always both convincing and a pleasure to watch. So I was quite worried that a second movie would not live up to the strong reputation of the first and leave a sour taste in the celluloid mouth at the end of the screening.

I needn’t have worried. Although in many ways a retread of the earlier film, Paranormal Activity 2 is actually a quite smart sequel to the original in that it doesn’t, at least at the start, quite do what you’re expecting it to do while still managing to build on the broad strokes that won the audience over in the first film.

For instance... the two main characters of the first film, Katy and Mika, are back. How can this be, you say, as Katie visits the family which make up the main protagonists in the second outing? Well this film deals primarily with Katy’s sister (who is mentioned a few times in the first film) and unless you are really good at remembering in the cinema exactly what dates the first film used as it’s time frame, you are going to find yourself guessing the relationship this movie has to the last. You might, like I did, assume that this movie plays out simultaneous to the events in the first movie - an on-screen inter-title helpfully points out the time frame in one scene as being “40 days before the death of Mica...” but that doesn’t really help if you can’t remember how many days duration the first film portrayed.

As it turns out, it is revealed in a very neat plot twist involving “demonic transference”, that the entirety of the first movie took place between two shots in this second outing... maybe about 5 mins before the end of this movie. Katy pops up quite a bit you see and the last five or so minutes of this movie deal with some events which take place one day after the final “camera rush” from Katy’s demonically possessed body at the end of the last movie.

And that very knowledge is what gives the movie one last, “they’re going to have the big scare now - oh no they didn’t you can relax again - oh wait, yep they’re going to have the big scare now after all” kind of tone that you get normally from just a couple of shots in a horror movie. The genius here is that the very intense and atmospheric scares which make up most of this second film actually counts as the “they’re going to have the big scare now shot”... and then they kind of let you off the hook. The demon is vanquished. Everybody is back to living happily ever after and no scares are going to happen. Then you realise the first movie has just happened in the space between the last shot... and that’s when suddenly all hell breaks loose again in the second movie. The smart and scared protagonists of this movie, you see, have ritualistically transferred the demon onto the sister, Kate and that’s when Kate and Mica start to get all their troubles in the events shown in the first movie. What they don’t reckon on is, once the events have played out there, Demon-Kate walks on over to their house to exact a swift retribution on her next of kin.

And it’s this smart, time-frame and revisit angle that really stops Paranormal Activity 2 from losing it’s way and becoming a “just about the money” movie in terms of a sequel... although, to be fair, it almost certainly is “just about the money”. I don’t think anyone’s going to feel cheated though and, since sequels always try to top themselves, they’ve upgraded the concept from being a lone video camera to a video camera plus a whole suite of security camera feeds (which is what I think next year’s horror movie Guinea Pigs is going to be doing). There are also some cute little references to the first movie which includes our window into why Mica got interested in buying a video camera in the first place.

All in all, Paranormal Activity 2 really doesn’t disappoint and even if you’ve become as jaded as me to the scares in these types of movies (although I have to say the REC movies make me jump every time) then it’s still worth seeing for a look at the acting styles depicted and to see the teenage audience around you jump out of their skins in the cinema (in fact, if anything’s going to scare you it’s what you see happening around you in the auditorium as the movie plays out - although, I have to say that early on in the film, when a baby is pulled up the side of its cot by an invisible demonic presence, there was quite a lot of unintentional laughter. Most of the time though, when the audience wasn’t busy jumping and screaming, you could hear a pin drop... the suspense was quite potent. At least it was with the crowd I saw it with.

Again, like the first movie, if you’re going to watch this one I’d recommend seeing it with a large audience. It’s going to be a much more fun experience for you if you do.

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