Paranormal Activity (2)

Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to Paranormal Activity, has been grabbing top spots across movie theatres in the world already – and this is just the opening weekend. Once again, Paramount has engaged in clever viral marketing tactics for the sequel that is bound to see this become a box office hit.

The original Paranormal Activity is a one-of-a-kind film that showed audiences can be spooked with mere whispers. Comparisons were made its soul predecessor, The Blair Witch Project, drawing on similarities such as mock documentary style adopted by both the films. However, I found Paranormal Activity to be scarier (the first time I watched it) because of how subtly it tried to convey the horror at points in the narrative – the slightest change of speech intonations, merest hint of a sinister smile. The Blair Witch Project on steroids, if you will.

Look at that slightest hint of a smile. Innocent, almost cherubic, yet with sinister undertones.
Look at that slightest hint of a smile. Almost cherubic, yet, with sinister undertones.

That’s what I found fascinating – the use of understated actions and emotions to scare. The earnestness of the psychic the couple in the film seek help from, the genuine frustration of Katie as she tries not antagonize whatever is possessing her, and the macho-posturing of Micah Sloat trying to deal with demonic possession with the same strategy he would walk into a bar brawl – add quirks that make the characters come real. Yet, in typical Hollywood fashion, the studio executives at Paramount forced changes to ‘make the film popular with mass audiences’. Now, you may have a contrasting opinion (read a summary of changes in the last link), but I think changes were for the worse. The ‘Paramount cut’ set the stage for this sequel by changing the ending; it also changed the tone and that’s a relevant factor when watching the latest release. Compare the theatrical release ending and the original cut ending for yourself.

My rating of Paranormal Activity: 4.5 / 5 (the original cut)

What was originally a scary tragedy was turned into a scary run-of-the-mill horror film by that single twist at the end. Paranormal Activity 2 – which as technically a prequel, not a sequel – continues in the same vein. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing – banking on the name of its predecessor to masquerade as horror film that is ‘better than others’ for adopting a mock documentary look. While that is true, the similarity runs only skin-deep. Out of its 90-minute running time, half of it is totally worthless. A slow pace at the start is forgivable IF it builds up to something; that’s not the case in this movie as the ‘spooky occurrences’ can be shifted around anywhere in the storyline without anyone noticing. Paranormal Activity 2 scares by popping a “boo!” every now and then. For the amount of money you’re paying to watch this movie, you could hire someone to jump out of a corner in a scary outfit – and it would have the same effect.

What is dumbfounding is the ambivalence of the (wooden) characters in this movie is using the ‘security camera’ footage – sometimes, they routinely check the footage to validate their fears, and yet at as the movie creeps to the climax everyone just seems to ‘forget’ that the cameras are there to corroborate and investigate what’s happening in their little haunted mansion.

The half of the story that isn’t worthless will still scare you – just not for the same reasons as the first film. Rather than teasing your primordial sense of fear, it milks interchangeable jack-in-the-box “boo!” moments for all their worth. Last I heard, that was supposed to be refuge of lazy filmmakers a la the ones behind this year’s A Nightmare On Elm Street remake. To be fair, Oren Peli didn’t reprise his role as director for the sequel. If the reason Paramount execs wanted to change the original was to shed excess fat from script, then this one should have had a runtime little more than a TV special!

No, the simple answer is that the studio is greedy and Paranormal Activity 2 is a manifestation of their greed with only a hastily tacked on back-story to add to the canon. No doubt the fat cats cackling at the take from the box office and already planning a second sequel.

Still, it’s a film that will make you wonder whether the movie theatre turned up the air conditioning a notch when you watch it.

My rating of Paranormal Activity 2: 2.5 / 5

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