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Monday, December 5, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2


Worst game of Hide and Seek ever.

The most positive thing about the Paranormal Activity series is that there isn't a shred of visible f/x in any of the shots. They're a technical marvel, even if the rest of the film might not be up to par with certain standards. The acting has declined since the first installment, but all of the actors accomplish their requirements. Be there, get scared. And they do, for three films. Of course, they do it best in the first. Much like the invisible special effects, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat manage to deliver two performances full of life and naturalism without being actors in any sense of the word.

Here, the family portrayed seems a bit rehearsed, which takes away from the naturalism of the film, thus diminishing the intended emotional effect and taking the audience to a bit of a more safe place than probably hoped for.

but that's just me.

I know people who love this film. I know people who hate this film. I'm in the middle camp, though I'd happily watch it again. In fact, I'll probably pop all three in and have a marathon. The quality has diminished, sure, but the films are still great examples of special effects genius and good storytelling. And a great way to spend six hours, if you turn off the lights and suspend your disbelief, like you've never seen them before. The first film still scares the pants off of me.

Our set-up in this chapter takes place only a few weeks before the first film. Per usual, there are no credits - merely a thank you from the production team behind the "documentary". Like the last, this film is presented in the style of "found footage", passing itself off as the ultimate "based on a true story". The Blair Witch Project cemented the idea that this could be done. And it proved effective for the first film as well. I should stop myself - I could go on and on with comparisons to the first part, and even the third (though it takes the formula in a bit of a new direction). I think it's fair, though, as it's what's called a "parallel sequel", essentially taking place during the first film, as the ending proves is evident.

Filled with unnamed actors, the most famous of which would probably be Molly Ephraim, who plays the teenage daughter Ali, despite being almost 24 during the time of filming. Her work is excellent, and by far the best of the cast. She exudes the naturalistic candor the rest of the cast was aiming for, with what looks like little effort. If given the right roles, she'll be a big star.

The story is fairly simple - Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) experience a random "break in", during which only a box of her sister Katie's videotapes are stolen. So, in a fit of plot point, Daniel installs a 24-hour security surveillance system in their home, catching the action in every room of the house. Except the bathrooms, the screenplay notes. Sorry, guys - Molly might be 24, but her character's apparently 15. gofigure.

You have the usual set of events - the characters play with a Ouija Board and there's the - as Roger Ebert so beautifully illustrated - the horror movie cliche of the foreigner that nobody listens to. There's a neat Spielbergian approach to the handling of their newborn kid (if you watch closely, you can catch several directorial nods) and the dog. But, despite the average acting, the film manages to crawl out of its cliched plot points and become something truly frightening in the last half hour. There are moments of directorial brilliance; the best shot in the film involves a sudden eruption of the kitchen cabinets that is perfectly timed.

Despite what you might think of horror films in the new millennium (there's a fairly valid argument that nothing good has happened to the genre in years), the Paranormal Activity series represents something fairly exciting - it's a bit of a rebirth of creativity. Doing what Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 failed to, PA2 (and PA3, to a larger extent) manages to take the clever idea of the original film, duplicate it, and improve some important aspects of it, engaging the audience in a new way, despite essentially showing them the same thing. What sets this apart, negatively, from the first film is the acting. And it's a far cry. What it improves? the original story, which is damn strong, and the effects. Which is what people see these movies for in the first place.