Like “The Blair Witch Project” 10 years before it, “Paranormal Activity,” a low-budget, independent horror film marketed under the guise of a documentary project, achieved the near-impossible last year by becoming an international box office sensation. And just like “The Blair Witch Project” before it, the film’s distributor immediately saw potential for a sequel, rushing a project into production to ensure an October release for the next year. Thankfully, the similarities between these two iconic films end there. Whereas “Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch Project 2” was a cinematic abomination, “Paranormal Activity 2” is something all too rare in the horror genre: a sequel that is, in many ways, superior to its predecessor.
Despite inviting inevitable comparisons to the far-superior “Poltergeist,” the decision to place a family at the film’s forefront and have the youngest member become the target of the demonic entity is wise. The film benefits from a larger cast as it’s interesting to see how different characters react to what’s going on. It’s impossible not to sympathize with a family trying to protect their newborn child — even if their actions are questionable at times.
The acting is sufficient, with Sprague Grayden (the closest thing the film has to a recognizable star, from TV’s short-lived “Jericho”) taking over for Katie Featherston as the lead. And while they seem somewhat superfluous, the recurring cameos by the original film’s stars (Featherston and Micah Sloat) add to the creepiness of the film’s proceedings.
Yet the most impressive aspect of the film is the way in which it manages to incorporate the events of the first film into its own narrative. In an innovative twist, “Paranormal Activity 2” acts as both a prequel and a sequel to the original film, encompassing events occurring before, during and after the events of the first.
Rather than using a higher budget to visually depict the demonic force that plagues the family, the film realizes that what our imaginations can conjure up is more terrifying than anything an effects team could achieve by wisely leaving the entity invisible. While this decision might not appeal to some audience members, it’s actually rather refreshing compared to many recent horror offerings, like the “Saw” films — a franchise that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of “Paranormal Activity 2” is that it doesn’t differ enough from its source material to truly warrant a recommendation to those unimpressed by the original. It stays so true to the first film’s formula that it’s unlikely to win over any new fans.
With “Paranormal Activity 2,” the franchise has demonstrated that it’s more than capable of delivering audiences more of what they want, and judging by the film’s current box office figures, there’s a demand for it. With talk already of a possible “Paranormal Activity 3,” it seems that doubts over the longevity of the franchise have been put to rest.