FILM REVIEW Paranormal Activity 2

What Katie did first

18 * 91 mins * 22 October 2010
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Tod Williams
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland

History has taught us that wherever there’s a horror phenomenon, there’s normally a crumby sequel not far behind. Horror fans of a certain age will wince at recalling Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2; those older will feel the same about the second Jaws film. Even last year’s [REC] 2 undid much of the wonder of the original by filling its unnerving void of mythology with unnecessary backstory. There was always the danger that the follow-up to 2007’s no-budget sensation would make a similar mistake.

For the first hour, the mistake Tod Williams’s sequel makes – and it’s a prequel really, but more of that later – takes a different form. Much has been said of the phenomenal monetary return the original film made (created for just $15,000, it recouped $194 million worldwide) and from the off, Williams seems keen to show where some of that money has been spent. He triples the cast of players, demonstrates a slew of different camcorders, and tees up a nightvision coda that should have the aforementioned [REC] team wondering if they can have a share of the spoils too. With increased resources comes a diminished sense of intimacy, both with the scenario and with the cast. It’s harder to care about their plight when you’re struggling to remember all their names.

Yet in setting the sequel mere weeks before the events of the first film – with the story concerning Katie’s sister and the demon’s torment of her family – knowing what happens once all this is through only helps to ramp up the tension. Williams peppers the returning Featherston and Micah Stoat throughout – Micah is not nearly as annoying when you know he’s going to get his soon – and once you’ve come to sympathise with the family’s situation, the dog, the baby, the kid sister and the bigger, grander house all provide a fresh playground for novel new scares.

Unlike some of the films mentioned above, what you can’t accuse Paranormal Activity 2 of is not being a labour of love. Don’t think you’ve heard the last of the demon yet – after the original’s unexpected success, there’s obviously a plan in place now; there are breadcrumbs scattered for at least three future films, and a feeling prevails that the writers and cast have a commitment to their creation just as artistic as it is financial.  It isn’t as tense as the first film, and sometimes you do wish it was as simple as its predecessor. But it’s certainly a must-see horror sequel – and it’s frightening how rarely you can say that.

James McMahon