Not my first choice of what I wanted to see on a Monday afternoon. That would have been The Other Guys, the decent looking Will Ferrell comedy that opened in America a while ago, and that I hoped would add some levity my regular schedule of artsy fartsy foreign fare. Paranormal Activity wasn't even my second choice; I would rather have seen Clooney in hitman mode in The American. But these two were sold out, so I found myself nevertheless getting ready for the second installment of a franchise that promises to settle in for a while. By this, I mean that we should prepare ourselves for one of these babies every Halloween weekend until people stop caring or until some other new and exiting thing takes its place. Just as the era of Saw ends with number 7, a new horror dynasty entrenches itself with the best opening weekend for any horror film ever (40 million).
To be fair, I don't really have anything against Paranormal Activity. When the first one came out of nowhere last year, it was a pleasant surprise,and it put its handheld, cinema verite gimmick to use quite effectively. The actors, while not perfect, made their characters feel real and their actions somewhat plausible. Its horror felt real too because it was stripped down, for the most part, to what we deal with every day; a creaking door, an odd noise in the night, flickering lights. Of course, it expanded further into the supernatural from there, but the initial basis in reality was important in establishing some sort of plausibility. And I think many Americans might not have that much trouble with the leap of faith it takes to believe in the kinds of demons shown in P A. The numbers are pretty astounding; according to a 2003 poll 51% of Americans and 65% of those aged 25 to 29 believe in ghosts. Check this out for some stats that are just as scary: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_poll3.htm. Astrology? Really?
Anyways, the second one picks up right where the first one left off, or rather before, during, and after the time when the first one takes place. We follow the family of Dan and Kristi, who is the sister of Katie, the protagonist turned evil demon of the first movie. More characters are added to the mix this time; there's a dog, a nanny, a teenage daughter, friends who stop by (including Katie and boyfriend Micah), and most importantly, a newborn boy, who is supposed to arouse feelings of anxiety and danger in the audience. But really, the anxiety and dread just don't build like they should. The new director, Tod Williams, does a nice job of introducing us to this new family as they splash around in their pool and play with their cute baby, but doesn't do much from there. Cupboards open, pots drop from the ceiling, the pool cleaner develops a mind of its own. We get it, we get it, our houses are scary places. The good thing for the filmmakers is that all of this should be easy to come up for future films. It's not like they have to keep designing gruesome traps to maim their victims. Let's think of some ideas right now...telephones that keep ringing even when you unplug them, spontaneously breaking mirrors, shaking furniture. Everything goes, as long as they avoid creepy music boxes and children's toys; those have been done to death in every single horror film since the fall of the roman empire. Oh wait..too late. Little baby hunter's toys do indeed move about and play sinister jingles. How original.
The fact that there's nothing new here is one of the few problems of a decently made movie, but it's a major one. The Paranormal Activity movies can be commended for a few things--a certain control in their pacing, a believable and interesting recreation of real American lives and relationships--but this is certainly not enough to save a genre that is as stale and derivative (at least in Hollywood) as it has ever been. And in the end, all Paranormal Activity 2 does is let us know of its intentions for a sequel, with the possessed Katie leaving with little Hunter to terrorize more families who just happen to be videotaping their daily lives. Let's hear it for more of the same!