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Film Review: Paranormal Activity 2

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Trina Demario
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« on: November 06, 2010, 05:55:55 pm »

Film Review: Paranormal Activity 2


By Preston Wilder Published on October 31, 2010

It’s amazing how little it takes to scare people. One might even say that Less is More. Show an image of an empty room, with some spooky music – or not even music, just a vague knowledge that something horrific is likely to happen soon – and you’ve got people whimpering and covering their eyes. Put an actual monster in that room, and their interest level goes way down. Even when it comes to that monster, less is more. Make your Evil Demon an ordinary-looking young woman sitting in a chair with a blank expression, and people get creeped out. Give it big teeth and tentacles, and they start arguing about the special effects.

Hollywood executives forget this stuff, because it confuses them; they’ve got millions of dollars to play with, and naturally feel they should use as much of it as possible. Those who don’t have much money, on the other hand, see things more clearly. In the arthouse world, Michael Haneke has been making scary films for years just by showing empty spaces being slowly invaded (often – in Hidden, for instance – he doesn’t even show the invasion, just the anticipation; that’s what makes him arty). Haneke’s Funny Games is a home-invasion movie that works in much the same way as the first Paranormal Activity – another less-is-more film where necessity became the mother of invention, though also one that grossed over $100 million on a budget of $11,000. Inevitably, Hollywood paid attention. Also inevitably, a sequel is now at your local multiplex.

Paranormal Activity 2 follows the  same low-tech formula as the original: CCTV cameras record what happens in a family home when nobody’s looking – which of course turns out to be an evil spirit, making its presence increasingly apparent. We know something bad will happen because the opening caption (peddling the usual ‘based on a true story’ shtick) notes that Paramount Pictures thanks “the families of the deceased” for their co-operation; later, another caption says it’s “60 days before the death of Micah Stoat” – which sounds pretty grim, though only **** fans are likely to remember that ‘Micah Stoat’ was the name of the husband in the first PA. No-one in the PA2 house is named Micah, though the house is completely fitted out with security cameras due to (what looks like) a burglary in the first few minutes of the film.

This is problematic, not just because we’re constantly ahead of the characters – seeing the footage they know nothing about – but because they stubbornly refuse to catch up. ‘Use the cameras!’ you want to scream at these people, especially when the strange events and bumps-in-the-night start mounting up. ‘Watch the damn footage!’. Husband and wife argue about how a metal pan in the kitchen could’ve fallen off its hook, not once but twice. Don’t argue; watch the footage! The wife knows what’s going on, because she and her sister were plagued by evil spirits in childhood – yet never once thinks to check the cameras and test her suspicions. The motherly Hispanic maid (who of course, being ethnic, knows about these things) is fired for burning incense to drive away the spirits – amusingly, the family are more freaked out by their baby being exposed to smoke than the possibility of evil demons – yet the husband isn’t curious to find out what made her do it.

To be fair – and to its credit – the film does include two scenes where our heroes watch the footage and see some strange things, only to rationalise them (must’ve been the wind that slammed that door, etc), making the point that people ultimately see what they want to see. But there’s no way to rationalise a floating baby, pulled into the air by a ghostly assailant – which we know is on the tapes, and would send the family screaming out of the house (effectively ending the movie) if someone only sat down and watched it.

That’s where Less is More comes in – because the problem with PA2 is that it shows too much, and contains too much plot. I can see why, of course. The first film was a hit, but many called it slow and complained that ‘nothing happened’, so the sequel adds more of a story – but that also makes it exponentially less scary. There’s a séance about a third of the way through the movie, in which (though the characters don’t realise it) a major revelation is made. After that scene, we know exactly what the ghosts want – and I must admit I stopped worrying, because the monster was now in the empty room.

The first few scenes of Paranormal Activity 2 have a nameless dread that’s very effective. The staging is better than the original – especially the baby’s room, equipped with a large mirror that’s perfect for malign shadows to appear in when nobody’s looking (I’m not saying they ever do; but anticipation is everything). But then comes the major revelation, and then comes the floating baby, and then comes some last-minute cheating – or just muddy plotting – and by that time I’d lost interest. Still, watching this film with a large, excitable audience is an experience, with people constantly on the edge of their seats and occasionally jumping out of them. They’re so easy to scare, bless their hearts.

http://www.cyprus-mail.com/film-review-paranormal-activity-2/film-review-paranormal-activity-2/20101031
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