Paranormal Activity 2
Unrated Director's Cut
Studio: Paramount Studios
US Rating: Unrated / R For Some Language and Some Brief Violent Material
Film Length: Theatrical 91 Minutes / Unrated 98 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 – Enhanced for Widescreen TVs – 1080p High Definition
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Review Date: February 5, 2011
“There’s something here…”
Paranormal Activity’s entrance to popular culture was accomplished with a savvy and successful marketing campaign, focused on footage of frightened movie theater patrons jumping and gasping at the movie we were being enticed to go see. It worked. By daring people to watch the film, and participate in an effort to have the ‘little film that could’ be released nationally, word of mouth helped propel the small budget film (estimated to be $15) to a domestic gross of over $107MM. The sequel, released just a year after the original, sought to make lightning strike twice, mirroring the original campaigns look and feel, while elaborating just a little to give a sense of what more the sequel would offer.
The Film: 3.5 out of 5
Initially set before the events of the first film, the story begins with Kristi, the sister of Katie from the first film, and her husband Daniel, filming the day their newborn son returns home from the hospital from giving birth. We are introduced to this new couple, their daughter, their German Shepard, and Micah and Katie from the first film. Daniel and Kristi also have a live-in housekeeper, a superstitious lady sensitive to the troubles ahead. Following a break-in at their home where nothing but a bracelet given to Kristi by her sister, the couple have security cameras installed throughout the house and outside pool area. Several nights pass with a thud heard here, a creak heard there. The footage concentrates on the baby’s room where the strangeness seems focused. The peculiar sounds become unexplained events and quickly escalate to terror.
Unlike the original, where the young man, Micah, became intent on documenting the perceived paranormal happenings in his home, much to his girlfriend Katie’s chagrin, Paranormal activity 2 weaves the ominous security footage between innocent home video footage taken of the couples young baby. The security footage provides long periods of film that avoids the shake and shuffle that are subject of complaint from films like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield – a nausea inducing effect that, particularly on the big screen, can be problematic for some.
As with the original, the entire narrative is constructed from ‘found’ footage, from the hand-held, home-made style demonstrated by 1999’s Blair Witch Project as being effective and cheap. This method of movie making remains surprisingly capable of lulling audiences into states of calm – with periods of normalcy and some may say boredom – before upping the tension complete with a rumble of the audio to help nudge them into an unsettled mood. There’s a mosaic quality to the narrative here, not unlike the original, but with the increase in angle available for the footage, thanks to the security cameras, this sequel feels like a slightly bigger film. Wisely, the producers chose not to deviate from the successful template and remained with the construct that so successfully scared audience (Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows are both good examples of why deviating is a bad idea). The tense moments, with the voyeuristic eye of the camera stationary in each of the rooms watching as some small movement occurs within frame (a spinning mobile, a warping mirror, etc.), are relatively frequent giving the film a reliable cadence.
The cast, playing their roles as naturally as possible, serve their roles well. Micah Sloat and Katie Featherstone from the first film do well again, and Sprague Grayden as Kristi and Briand Boland as Daniel both succeed in not looking like they are acting. The rest of cast, including daughter Ali, played by Molly Ephraim, and the housemaid played by Vivis Cortez, keep the dramatic acting to a minimum, preserving the intent of the film.
Paranormal Activity 2 was an enormous hit. Though its budget of $3MM was substantially higher than the original’s $15,000, it remains tiny compared to other films (the last SAW film cost a reported $20MM), and its $84MM gross, though short of the original’s 107MM, is incredible business for a horror movie. And it works. Though slow at times, and even a tad predictable, Paranormal Activity 2 is the perfect scary movie night out at the theater. It may not play as well at home, but when the film veers into the more outrageous and freaky middle-of-the-night events, those with a tendency to cover their face with a pillow, or bite their nails, will find themselves covered by a couch cushion – or knowing away at their fingernails – very quickly. The scares seem to work as well as those generated by the first film, though it must be said the ending doesn’t quite pack the wallop of the first.
The additional seven minutes of footage add a few moments of family time and a moment here and there of creepiness, such as a high chair tipping over and Abby, the German Shepard, sensing something.
The Video: 4 out of 5
Paranormal Activity 2 is presented in 1080p High Definition and is framed in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The night shots are expectedly grainier than the clean and crisp daylight HD footage, and the image appears free of any processing issues. The realism afforded the film via amateur footage serves the chills very well, and the natural lighting, warm colors, natural flesh tones, and grainy, grey/blue night footage, are represented extremely well by this Blu-ray release.
The Sound: 3.5 out of 5
Paranormal Activity 2 arrives on Blu-Ray comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The majority of the movie is dedicated to conversations between the main characters and is focused in the center channel. Without a score, the sound design becomes the informer of scenes, with an ominous rumble preceding paranormal activity, and other sounds such as whispers, baby monitor hiss and such, making the most of the high quality audio bandwidth. The rumble, thuds and clangs are produced well in the surrounds and the low end delivers also.
The Extras: 2 out of 4
Theatrical Version and Unrated Extended Version with an Additional Seven Minutes
Found Footage (HD) (3:49): A single additional scene of a power outage where the baby, Hunter, is nowhere to be found. I imagine this scene was simply cut for time.
Teaser Trailer (HD)
DVD version of the film, plus a Digital Copy of the Theatrical Version: For use with your iPod, Mac, and PC.
Paranormal Activity 2 is a reasonably good scary movie with several ‘gotcha’ moments that genuinely work. The modest attempt to explain or understand the paranormal events – mainly driven here by the teen daughter – aren’t to be taken too seriously.
I would not have predicted Paranormal Activity 2’s success at all. I clearly underestimated the social experience that comes from taking in a scary movie like this with friends – and that’s clearly the core of its success. Paramount Pictures has a franchise on its hands, though its longevity will depend upon the oft fickle nature of movie goers, and the extent to which the filmmakers can keep the storytelling fresh releasing at the same annual pace as Lionsgate’s SAW franchise.
Overall Score 3.5 out of 5