Horror movies rarely get better as a series goes on. In fact most series that start incredibe only get worse and eventually fall to ruin...I'm looking at you Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Even if a sequel to a horror film is just as scary, it's very rare that the sequel is a perfect companion to the first one and makes it even better. When I saw that Paranormal Activity was going to have a sequel come out EXACTLY one year after the first one, my thoughts went exactly to the disaster that was The Blair Witch Project 2. That was a perfect example of how Hollywood can take one of the all-time movie success stories that created legit terror on a shoestring budget and then raped the soul out of it. I'm absolutely thrilled to report that Paranormal Activity 2 avoided the awful conclusion that The Blair Witch Project suffered. This movie worked with what made the original a success and pumped it full of steroids. Sure, it's a little more spruced up and has some special effects but it still retains those key ingredients - surveillance cameras, unknown actors, limited cast, one location and heavy reliance on sound effects. Although the reason for the "I shot this myself" product feels less organic and believable than it did in the first one, I'm thrilled that they made that choice. What was refreshing to see was that the original director, Oren Peli, handed over the reigns to new director Tod Williams, who comes from directing documentaries. The other was hiring a perfect team of writers that made the film an amazing prequel AND sequel at the same time. But (and this really impressed me) you don't need to see the first one to fully enjoy the second one. In fact, you could then watch the first one and THAT would turn into a sequel. It introduced a whole new cast of characters to care about AND found a great way to bring back Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloan from the first one. Now, when it came to the first one it was amazingly creepy but somewhat light on the scares. The sequel skimps on the creepy and trades it for terror and monumental scares! If you're a fan of the original then you're prepared for a first act that burns slow and steady. However, the last twenty minutes of the sequel goes to places of horror that are beautiful when done right. For one, they added a dog and a baby and that preys on the two areas that most people consider pure innocence. Sure there were teenagers in the theater that were laughing as a nervous response but most of the parents were silent with anxious fright and I even heard some cry. The thought of helplessness in defending your baby is a primal fear that I can only imagine can paralyze even the strongest of audience members. The Paranormal Activity series reminds of a type of horror film that's rare and so wonderful to see. The kind that never relies on gore or monsters to create terror but instead invites you into a haunted house. You basically will spend 90 minutes watching a magic trick as the house becomes alive with sounds and tricks that scare you as much as they scare the actors. Yeah, this time around some of those tricks are CGI or other visual effects, but it still has the same feel of low budget, bare knuckled, drag out, goosebump-inducing, fun house horror. Don't bother getting popcorn for this one because it's just gonna end up on your lap and the lap of your neighbor.
Paranormal Activity 2 (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A