Monday, October 25, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

In this prequel to last year's runaway breakout hit horror movie, the sister of the original film's lead character and her family are haunted by the same evil demon. In keeping with the "found footage" style of the first film, the family's house is wired with security cameras, catching all the action.

I very much did not care for the original Paranormal Activity, and let me try to briefly summarize why. When I was younger, sometimes I would sneak into my brother's room while he was sleeping, hide under his bed, make a scary noise to wake him and then grab his ankle when he got out of bed. It scared the shit out of him and was hilarious, no doubt, but it wasn't art. Paranormal Activity is that ankle grab, repeated ad nauseum for 90 minutes. I understand why people like it and find it fun, and I don't begrudge them their fandom. Personally, however, I require more from my horror movies: more intricately crafted suspense sequences, more atmosphere, more ideas. If not more "art," then at least more artifice.

It's not a surprise that I didn't like the sequel. I only really saw it because I like to keep up with current horror events, but I promise I went in with an open mind. I even think the gimmick had real promise to do something interesting, although the film totally blows the opportunity.

The fixed security cameras seemed like a good idea to me. They allow for a much deeper range of focus, which I thought could be exploited for suspense. Initially, the dramatic framing from some of the cameras (the baby's room has a big wall length mirror allowing you to see everything on the opposite side) gave me hope. Sadly, they blow it. Little effort is made to the let action play out on multiple visual planes, where a clever filmmaker could put the characters in the middle ground, and fill the back and fore grounds with creepy details . Instead, PA2 repeats the original's avalanche of abrupt "boo!" scares (pots falling off their racks, doors slamming, plates and glasses flying out of the cupboards) that are only "scary" because they are accompanied by a loud noise on the soundtrack.

The sequel might actually be a little worse than the original, I think mainly due to two things. One, its an unimaginative rehash of the first film's story and structure with only a cursory effort to add anything new. Two, it loses the one virtue I will credit the original with: patience. The multiple cameras allow director Tod Williams to introduce editing to the PA formula that is (relatively) more rapid, giving us fewer of the long takes that distinguished the original. Worse, he uses the editing to cheat. Presumably, the multiple cameras offer the audience a sort of omnipresence in the home; we should be able to see everything that's happening. Instead, Williams goes out of his way on several occasions to cut to camera angles where we can't tell what's going on, and so that things can dramatically disappear and reappear between shots. How'd they get there? Dunno, he doesn't show us that part.

Grade: D+


Andy Sandwich said...

Wait, I don't remember you hiding under my bed as a kid. I must have blocked that out. Also, it explains my inexplicable fear of monsters under my bed.

Dan said...

Definitely got you a few times like that in CT. There was a lot of space under that bunk bed.