‘Paranormal Activity 2’ even better than the original (Movie review)

Shaune, a commenter on these threads, wrote about a year ago that he liked “Paranormal Activity,” but if they made a sequel he would hate it. Well, the sequel is here, but I think he and many other people will like it. I certainly think it’s a significant step up from the first movie, which had a great concept but was sometimes a bit boring.

“Paranormal Activity 2,” although it is meant to be watched after the first one, functions largely as a prequel, taking place a few months before the first movie. As such, the young married couple from that movie is in this one, too, although the main character is the sister of the woman from “PA1.”

Kristi is played by Sprague Grayden, who I recognized because she was the defendant on this week’s “Law & Order: Los Angeles”; she also played the president’s daughter in Season 7 of “24” and has appeared in many other TV series. Kristi is joined by her husband, her stepdaughter, her baby boy and her dog.

Working at newspapers, I’ve learned that kids and pets on the front page sell papers, and apparently they give movies a boost, too. Part of the problem with “PA1” was that I got tired of looking at just two characters. “PA2” is more well-rounded, more polished, more Hollywood — but not in a bad way. I enjoyed all those different points of view, and all the different suspects whenever a noise is heard in the house.

“PA2” uses the “faint sound of footsteps on stairs” cliché to good effect, but what’s really great is that it finds a creepier house than the first film. It’s not a rickety old haunted house, but rather a swank new Hollywood home. What makes it work is the sharp angles (Anyone could be around that corner!) and the mirrors (Was that movement? No, it was just a reflection. Whew.). It also makes nice use of silence; “PA2” may have spent more money than the first one, but it still didn’t have to pay a composer. During one stretch, I could clearly hear the movie playing in the theater next door.

And instead of one camera, “PA2” features seven — six security cameras, plus a hand-held. So every time something weird happens, it’s time to go to the tape. It’s an effective technique for doubling the suspense, because answers are indeed found on the tape, but what the family sees might creep them out even more.

The structure of showing security camera footage where nothing much happens was a little tedious at first, but the movie doesn’t stay in a rut. It picks up suspense as it goes along. I was getting close to thinking, “Come on, just have something happen already!” But then it does, and it’s all good stuff from then on.

Do you agree that “Paranormal Activity 2” is a notch better than the original? Or do you prefer the first one? Share your thoughts below.

Shaune's GravatarIts funny that you reference my comments about PA1 your review because I thought about the exact same thing as I was sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start. I was extremely excited to see PA2. The first PA1 was one of the scariest movies that I have seen. Mainly because it was so normal. Could this really be happening while I sleep? Is something living in the attic above my closet? I honestly thought about that movie until I fell asleep that night. Being a horror movie fan, this doesn’t happen often.
I think you will be surpised to hear this but I was really dissapointed by PA2. Was a bad movie? No. Was it a great movie? No. Did I expect too much? Yes.
I feel like it was simply a rehash of the original. I think the problem is that we all knew what to expect. After watching PA1, we know that we had to watch each corner of the screen and wait for the movement. We knew that it was start slow and get worse and worse…etc. I just feel like they took the same formula and spent more money on it.
If PA1 had never been created, then PA2 would be one of my favorite movies.. but instead, I was bored and not scared at all during the movie.Also, as much as I enjoyed the link between the two films, it is ironic how well it works due to the way hollywood changed the ending of the first film. With the original ending to PA1, then PA2 ends much happier!Either way, I’m glad to see these type of movies making money. I am a horror movie junkie and will be in line to see PA3 if it does get made, I will just keep my expecations lower.

# Posted By Shaune | 11/17/10 10:29 AM
John Hansen's GravatarShaune–
You originally predicted you would hate PA2 and you only ended up disliking it, so I guess they didn’t do too bad. I remember that Hollywood was originally thinking of remaking PA1 with more money rather than releasing the actual indie film, but then they saw the reaction at screenings and decided to go with that version. I think if they had remade PA1 it would’ve been almost exactly what you see in PA2. Better, from a technical standpoint, but also owing everything to the original.
You mention that PA2 spent more money, but don’t you also feel that it was a better crafted movie? Better acting, better characters, better sets (in the sense that the rooms were creepier with the angles and mirrors), and so forth?
I see your point about how the idea wasn’t fresh anymore, but I do think it’s a better film than the original and I had a lot of fun watching it.
I’m guessing that for PA3 you want it to divert from the formula quite a bit, but I think you will probably be disappointed in that regard. In will probably just keep upping the stakes with each sequel. If they follow these same characters, it’s possible that PA3 could be quite different, but if the connecting thread among the franchise is the security/home-movie cameras (with interchangeable characters), then it will probably feel like a remake again.
# Posted By John Hansen | 11/17/10 9:40 PM
Shaune's GravatarJohn,
I have a really hard time saying that PA2 was a better crafted movie or finding the positives just because of everything I feel they took from PA1. (You are able to do this, but that is your profession)
You reference the house being a better set.. actually, I enjoyed the first small house a bit better. I think that it was a bit more claustrophobic. Also, I could relate a bit more having lived in apartments and smaller homes. I don’t think the newer larger house was the wrong move, and you are probably right about the angles, corners, mirrors etc, I just preferred the smaller house.
The more that I think about it, I think the writers did a great job by making this a ‘prequel’ and integrate it so closely with the original because it made it ‘ok’ to use the same ideas. Like the woman being posessed etc.
Making a PA3 will be VERY interesting. One idea may be to use random public cameras such as traffic cams, gas station cams, cell phone cameras etc, that have captured weird phenomenon and tell the story similar to a documentary style and then roll into a full fledged movie using the suspense tricks that made ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Strangers’ so effective. “Oh, he is right there! Behind you!” – but then the on screen character turns around and sees nothing…Your right, I didn’t hate it, it could have been worse, but myself and the 3 people all left the theatre dissapointed after loving the first and expecting to be scared out of our minds during PA2. I would have rated it about 6/10. (PA1 was 9/10 in my book)
# Posted By Shaune | 11/18/10 10:19 AM
John Hansen's GravatarShaune–
Speaking of claustrophobic movies that make good use of security cameras, did you like “Devil” from earlier this year? That was about as claustrophobic as it gets, mostly set in an elevator. I posted a review of that a couple months ago.
I actually find larger homes to be scarier than smaller ones. In my apartment, I can see everything in just a few glances, so there’s no place for a monster to hide. Bigger houses have more hiding places. One thing PA2 did nicely is have a basement that’s filled with random crap. In the beginning when they showed the basement, I knew they’d be coming back to it later. The most memorable moment of the movie for me is when she is dragged into the basement and then the door slams shut. And of course later she comes out of the basement possessed. “Blair Witch” also had a nice, creepy basement at the end; that’s one of the few things I remember about that movie.
# Posted By John Hansen | 11/18/10 3:21 PM