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Paranormal Activity 2 (R)


10/28/10



 Nothing is scarier than something being about to happen in Paranormal Activity 2, a movie that totally gets you every time it shouts “boo.”

 
As in “Boo! That thing over there moved slightly!” Or “Boo! The door closed!” And, truly creepy, “Boo! The pool light went out!”
 
Never has a California McMansion seemed so terrifying.
 
I think the McMansion-ness is part of what makes the movie so successful. Would all this door moving slightly and weird shadow appearing and lights going off stuff be as scary in one of our 100-year-old New England houses? I tend to think not. My house makes weird noises all the time — doors always close for no reason. Unless you want them closed — then they open. And, since nothing in old homes is ever level or built at a 90-degree angle, of course stuff is going to move mysteriously. 
 
But in the brand new, light and bright, perfectly plumb little starter home of the first movie’s Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherstone) or the roomy manor of this movie (everybody has their own bathroom!), you do wonder how a pan could fall off its rack, except by the hand of a demon.
 
This new house is home to Kristi (Sprague Grayden), her husband Dan (Brian Boland), his daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and Kristi and Dan’s infant son Hunter. They also have a dog. They also have a video camera — which they use to document Hunter’s arrival home for the first time as well as family fun by the pool and even scenes of Aunt Katie — yes, that Katie — Kristi’s sister, holding little Hunter.
 
Hunter’s probably about a year old when the camera is suddenly used — because all of this is “found footage,” of course — to document a disturbing break-in at the happy family’s palatial home. Things are thrown about, torn up, broken — but strangely nothing is missing. Dan decides to get a security camera installed, and thus we get most of the rest of the footage. Little things at first — the robotic pool cleaner ending up where it shouldn’t be, lights turning off mysteriously, doors closing. Strange sounds. Suddenly little Hunter will look at something that isn’t there and the dog will bark in that direction. 
 
It’s when a pan falls down in the kitchen that Kristi starts to suspect that Something is in the house. 
 
Of course, way before the family believes anything is amiss, a Hispanic nanny goes around blessing the house, trying to scare away bad spirits with burning sage or something. Your Hispanic nanny and your dog know things you don’t, seems to be the message of this movie. It’s a testament to how much I enjoyed this movie that I didn’t think too hard about that. You’ll let weird portrayals of your ethnic group slide when you’re delighting at having the poo scared out of you, I guess. And I was delighting at the little frights the movie was giving me every time a floorboard creaked. This movie, story-wise, wraps itself around the first movie, taking place mostly before the events of the first Paranormal Activity and then a little bit after. But it sets the same mood, uses the same visual cues, even gives us a vaguely not-famous group of people to help keep the real-events vibe flowing. (The movie never says we’re watching real events but does begin with a goofily somber note about Paramount Pictures thanking the families of the deceased.)
 
In the two weeks before Halloween, I’m going to see two horror movie sequels.
 
 Two movies that will likely trade heavily on their origin films and probably won’t break a lot of new ground. One of these movies will be Saw 3D, the latest movie in a franchise that hasn’t felt fresh in years. The other is Paranormal Activity 2, a movie that also doesn’t deviate from the formula set forth by the first movie. But in this movie, I felt actual chills and had actual moments of suspense. I don’t mind seeing more or less the same movie again if I liked the movie the first time. And something I have never done after seeing one of the Saw movies —  I was startled awake the night after seeing Paranormal Activity 2 and briefly freaked out by a noise downstairs (then I remembered that if I don’t hear a creaking, clanging noise, it probably means I don’t have heat). Haunted old house in dark windy woods? The sunbaked suburbs are still way creepier. B
 
Rated R for some language and brief violent material. Directed by Tod Williams and written by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, Paranormal Activity 2?is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.





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