Paranormal Activity 2

The technique of ‘found footage’ is far from a novelty in horror cinema. Long before The Blair Witch Project (1999), audiences were being terrified by Cannibal Holocaust (1980), a film so dedicated to its premise of being factual that the director was arrested on suspicion of having killed his actors. But that was thirty years ago, and audiences have since become far savvier about exactly what is real. With this in mind, it is impressive that with 2009’s Paranormal Activity, director Oren Peli managed at least to raise the possibility that what the audience was seeing might be genuine. However, with this hurried and repetitious sequel, the minds behind Paranormal Activity 2 seem to have done their utmost to dispel any lingering sense of terror.

The plot centres on the Rey family, whose step-mother, Kristie, is the sister of Katie from the original. It opens with the parents bringing their new baby, Hunter, back from the hospital, and it is at this point that things take a turn for the spooky. Yet from the very first night in the house – helpfully signposted as ‘Night 1’ – events take a predictable and increasingly boring turn. An indispensible weapon in the arsenal of any great horror film is the gradual build-up of tension, as well as strongly established location and characters, yet here, the cameras manage to establish the physical layout and nothing more. It is a bland location utterly lacking any discernable identity, a far cry from the iconic house of The Amityville Horror (1979). Worse still, the characters themselves lack any depth whatsoever, instead being reduced to stereotypes that fail to elicit any sympathy from the audience.

Even without depth or strong characterisation, it is still possible to make an effectively frightening horror film, but this possibility seems to have escaped director Tod Williams. The first half hour seems to gesture towards developing the characters and building tension, but it achieves neither, instead eliciting only boredom from the audience.

Yet even once the film gets going, things hardly improve; each scare is reduced to a loud noise intended to make the audience jump, a cheap and utterly superficial tactic. It also swiftly becomes dull – once you’ve seen a door slam several times, it quickly begins to lose its ominous significance. The gradual development of the spooky goings-on in the house is also achingly predictable, getting bigger and, inevitably, less effective as the film develops; they progress from the familiar creepiness of vague noises to a laughable repetition of the first film, with a woman being dragged around the house by an invisible force.

Much of the first film’s strength lay in its coherent execution of the ‘found footage’ technique, yet here, as Williams strains to maintain a sense of realism – who records their banal phone conversations and most intimate moments and arguments with a camcorder? – it becomes clear that Paranormal Activity 2 is a monotonous failure on almost every level. It is a witless, hurried and painfully predictable mess, and worth avoiding at all costs.

Originally published by Cherwell, in print and online, on 28/10/10.

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