Paranormal Activity 2

I think Paranormal Activity 2 is proof that you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice. Or at the very least, don’t make a sequel to a film whose success was based on the mystery of its plot.

The sequel follows the same path of the original: have a series of increasingly terrifying evenings captured on surveillance footage by the victims in question. This time around it’s a family of four (rather than a young couple) being terrorized by a malevolent presence. The plot follows a similar arc to the first: the husband doesn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural and the wife (and this time around) daughter increasingly believe it to be the only possible explanation. Pots and pans clatter in the middle of the night. Doors slam shut. Objects and people are thrown across the room by invisible forces. And it’s all too familiar.

I’ll be completely honest: the first Paranormal Activity unnerved the hell out of me. And I know exactly why: I had no idea what to expect.

The central premise was one we’ve heard countless times and have seen done in plenty of other horror movies: family/couple/individual is terrorized by a haunted house. But the difference was how it was marketed. After doing test screenings on a bunch of college campuses, the marketing for the film was handled entirely online by asking users to vote in order for the privilege of having the film be screened in their city. And there was only one thing anyone knew about it:

It was supposedly terrifying.

And that was it. I watched the movie having no idea what was going to happen, and my only expectation was that it was going to be horrifying. That’s what made it frightening, because while watching I brought with me years of horror film experiences. The creaking door becomes the ominous signal of an axe murderer. A book falling off a shelf conjures up images of a malevolent ghostly presence. A woman standing over her sleeping lover reminds one of The Exorcist or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Paranormal Activity by itself isn’t frightening; it’s just a low-budget movie with doors closing and shadows moving on the floor. What was frightening was not knowing what to expect.

Paranormal Activity 2 loses the thrills of the original because it delivers exactly the same formula (which admittedly, is why sequels are made). We know what to expect, and because of that, the experience isn’t as unique anymore. This isn’t the film that Spielberg watched and then brought back to the studio the next day in a garbage bag saying it was cursed. Instead, this is the cinematic equivalent to Halloween haunted house tour: fun, familiar, and ultimately, forgettable.


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