The horror film genre needs a good kick up the ass. At a time when Eli Roth’s torture porn has set a new low, Scream 4 dominates at the box office, and undead Japanese girls just don’t cut it any more, what have we got left?
Paranormal Activity 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by reviving the Blair Witch-esque home-camera style of horror. The plot involves a family who are haunted by a demon, due to someone somewhere down the bloodline making a pact with one causing viewers to wonder just why people agree to such things. What starts off with slamming doors and toppling furniture develops into, well, more slamming doors and toppling furniture; except for one point at which a few people get literally swept off their feet. There are a couple of spine-chilling moments (literally, two), but the viewer’s fear never gets truly consummated.
Paranormal Activity 2 begins with the now-clichéd text assuring viewers that it’s based on a true story, a gimmick people are so used to that even if it was a true story, they’d refuse to believe it. Yet as the film develops, so does its potential. The fact that much of the poltergeist-style action occurs in the baby’s room and the knowledge that the baby senses this evil but can’t communicate it is a disturbing concept. The obligatory barking, whimpering dog detracts from the baby’s solitude.
The early sense of dread never develops. For the first 45 minutes the film has the viewer anticipating something to disturbing, but it soon becomes apparent that this won’t happen. Paranormal Activity 2 feels tacky, but tacky beyond its intended home-made effect. The lack of clarity in the CCTV camera perspective could work well, tickling our nerves and making us question if we just saw something move in the corner or if that’s just the quality of the footage. It fails to exploit its own devices however and ends up feeling hollow; a bit like watching those middle-of-the-night live feeds from Big Brother when absolutely nothing is happening.
While there is a climax to the film, the patchy plot leaves you playing catch-up on why things pan out the way they do. None of this is cleared up, but chances are that by this late point in the film you’ll have already have descended into apathy due to the film’s failure to make the dull victimised family vaguely interesting. The only sympathetic characters are the dog and baby but sadly neither can even talk.
Being a horror sequel, Paranormal Activity 2 was never going to be original, but it could at least have provided some cheap shocks. The CCTV-style camera provides moments where the viewer feels uncomfortably close to the action, but most of the time it feels like watching a mediocre reality TV show in which the depraved – but entertaining, – participants have been replaced by a dull family unable to deal with their demons (poor pun, but somehow fitting for this film).
Best scene: Baby being tormented by the demon… which makes me sound a bit sadistic.
Best performance: The baby (William Juan Prieto) and the uncredited dog are a good double act.
Watch this if you liked: Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch Project