One Halloween, I went to a haunted house Upcountry, over by the Eddie Tam gym, and got chased down a hallway by a guy waving a chainsaw. The chainsaw had no actual chain on it, but it still made that buzzing sound and the man in question was dressed like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I made a run for it, even though I knew I was pretty safe. Horror movies are like that—the best ones fill you with anxiety and make you sink down in your seat with fright, despite the fact that there’s no actual danger. Paranormal Activity 2 is not a great horror movie—and has the same limitations as the original—but it does have its moments.
The first film, you may recall, was supposed to be remade and not released at all, but someone at Paramount Pictures believed in it enough to give it a trial run and word of mouth turned it into a blockbuster. The sequel feels like what the remake would have been, with a larger, fancier house as the setting, an ensemble cast and stylish photography. Both a prequel and a sequel, it shows us a happy family terrorized by an unseen presence that, not coincidentally, shows up whenever “Aunt Katie” (Katie Featherston, returning from the original) pays a visit. Also back is Katie’s boyfriend Micah, the Kevin Federline of these movies, though he’s slightly less stupid this time. The new cast is appealing, though the movie is stolen by the family dog, which protects the baby of the house from the boogeyman.
Yes, the baby is shamelessly put into peril, a concept many classic horror movies, from The Bad Seed to Poltergeist, exploit. The first-person camera work is utilized differently than in the original: because of an unexplained burglary that takes place (spoiler: Casper did it!), almost every room in the house has a camera installed and it provides viewers with a slick, eerie landscape where spooky things can happen at any time. In fact, the biggest scare in the movie takes place in broad daylight, which is a huge accomplishment for any horror movie.
There’s no music, and the long bouts of silence that get broken by a loud bump in the night are enough to scramble your nerves. Some of this works very well, but other touches, like a haunted pool cleaner (for real) make you wonder if they ran out of ideas early on. Portions of the film mimic everything from The Exorcist to The Blair Witch Project, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
The cliffhanger ending sets up the inevitable Paranormal Activity 3, but I walked away feeling shaken, not stirred. The surprise of the original is gone and unless you’re an infant or a dog, this won’t give you sleepless nights. The first movie left me so scared, I slept on the couch. The sequel: I slept like a baby…uh oh.