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Paranormal Activity 2

One upside to scoring big bucks off a cheaply acquired, shrewdly marketed, not-particularly-scary horror film: The marketing department can pretty much sit out No. 2.

So it is with “Paranormal Activity 2” — of which little has been revealed besides the fact a tormented toddler and a nervous German Shepherd are now besieged by a dastardly demon’s dirty deeds.

No one wants to see loyal dogs or hapless tots bite it, so the addition of both proves as simple and cunning a hook as the first film’s: A couple chronicles its apartment’s haunting with catastrophic results.

Good horror movies demand attention. Last year, “Paranormal Activity” mistakenly catered to its deficit, lamely relying on Pavlovian cues to get people to stop tweeting, texting or talking and watch a Really Scary Thing That’s About to Happen.

Thankfully, more is mostly more in “Paranormal Activity 2” — not much more in the end, but anything’s a step up.

Notably scary? Not really, but it boasts one terrifically terrible fright (one more than its forebear), more characters, less tedium and better acting, even in non-verbal roles. Plus, it largely discards wall-rattling bass that once preceded the demon’s arrival and plagued its predecessor’s pace. (Not entirely gone, it arrives late, and muted, enough so as not to rankle.)

Incongruously jumping from John Irving-inspired drama to haunted-house horror, director Tod Williams stages several scenes as dreadfully, discomfortingly still as those in Michael Haneke’s “Cache.”

Unaided by sound or sped-up time-codes during which we know nothing spooky will occur, Williams firmly affixes your eyes where they should be: Darting all over to anticipate from what corner of the screen something might twitch or leap. Williams rewards observance with WTF bits of barely perceptible motion. (Hanging pots and pans at one point feel as if they’re turning to stare.)

And, if not the found-footage conceit, at least its marketing ruse has been dropped. There are actual filmmakers and end credits this time, and fans of “Jericho” and late-period “24” will recognize Sprague Grayden as one of the first people onscreen.

She’s Kristi, a new mother to baby Hunter, whom we see her bringing home with husband Daniel (Brian Boland), teenaged stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), Spanish nanny Martine (Vivis) and dog Abby. All seems well in this well-to-do blended family until their home is ransacked, but nothing is stolen.

Daniel then mounts security cameras throughout the house — providing ominously omniscient views of the den, kitchen, foyer, stairwell and Hunter’s bedroom. For a while, they capture mostly benign haunts perpetrated on somewhat-bourgeois people. Then, in walks Kristi’s sister, Katie.

Yes, that Katie (Katie Featherston), last seen (by us) possessed and hovering over dead boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) before decamping to unknown whereabouts. Those unable to recall the first film’s timeframe (and, really, who would?) will cringe as Hunter’s handed to her and she says Micah is “not up to hanging out.”

But later, in walks … Micah, most assuredly not a ghost. And there’s another reason Paramount isn’t showing much in trailers: Trouble with a capital “T,” which rhymes with “P,” and that stands for prequel.

Not for nothing is the “2,” as sequel moments certainly apply, but as the demon’s visits again intensify into familiar levitation, dragging and biting attacks, “Paranormal Activity 2” resorts to same shenanigans, different domicile. (Even Hunter becomes just a poltergeist’s prop, although not quite to the degree of immediate danger one trailer suggests.)

“The more we paid attention to it, the worse it got,” Katie reminds Kristi of their childhood run-in with the demon. The same could be said for how the filmmakers handle fleshing out those characters’ curse.

Yes, cultural snobbery amusingly backfires, and there’s an admirable climactic mean streak. But the last act clearly crams in mythology meant to give life support to sequel/prequel opportunities. (At one point, the 1930s are mentioned. Let me guess: Hand-cranked cameras for that one?)

“Paranormal Activity 2” is reminiscent of “Saw II” — modestly building on a so-so introductory film to something slightly more accomplished. But anyone who sat through “Saws” 3-6 will attest to the fine line between incremental improvement and getting greedy.

This coda’s creaky bid for its own annual franchise status feels a lot like crap tossed in a candy bucket and called a “treat.” No one needs “Paranormal Activity 7″ in 2015, let alone “Paranormal Activity 3″ in 2011.

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20 Responses to “Paranormal Activity 2”

  1. [...] That guy is Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a videographer who’s squeezed his editing bay into the garage of his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Bittner). Occupationally, Dennis doesn’t have much going for him, but he is a good surrogate dad to Julie’s daughters, Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) — the same sisters plagued by a pissed-off demon as adults in parts one and two. [...]

  2. Leslie Gorby says:

    I liked the first movie… but for some reason I was under the impression that it was real (i guess I just believed someone when they told me it was real footage). I do not see how there could be a successful third or fourth movie, I think it would just become way to repetitive with out enough of a plot change available. I think I will see this when it comes out of dvd since most find it better than the first, which I liked.

  3. david zebell says:

    much like the first one only slightly less believable and maybe a little scarier. not really an edge of the seat type of thing but kinda those unexpected ‘boos’ and some eeriness. – worth seeing.

  4. Carl Cederlund says:

    The first one was not good. It would be hard to sell me a ticket to this one.

  5. Brandon Scales says:

    I thought the movie was scary in places and was surprised by the ending of the movie. I didn’t like the movie. I know most people don’t like horror movies but there are some I like and don’t like.

  6. This movie was slow in the beginning but ended with a bag for me. Enjoyed it

  7. Nick Rogers says:

    Jason: Ditching that conceit *could* be interesting. Let’s face it: The mere presence of a sequel shows to audiences that this is no longer a low-budget phenomenon. It’s an out-and-out franchise, so why not go the full-blown budgetary route? Maybe the demon is now stronger given Hunter’s involvement … who knows?

    Elizabeth: There are alternate endings to the original film. Perhaps your confusion stems from having seen the one included on the "PA" DVD, in which Katie slits her own throat on camera after killing Micah. (In a third ending, available only online, Katie kills Micah, rocks back and forth in place for two days straight and is killed by the police — who are summoned by her sister, who comes to check on her and sees Micah’s dead body. Hope that helps.

  8. elizabeth says:

    I was confused at one part of the movie. SPOILER…when the end of the movie states Katie and hunters whereabouts are unknown. Didnt she die in the first one? It doesnt make sence to me? can anyone explain?

  9. Diego says:

    This movie was pretty good. Had some great moments especially the baby in the crib.

  10. Jason says:

    I hope they do away with the found footage conceit for the inevitable Paranormal Activity 3. I just don’t see how they can make it work a third time and have it still be compelling.

  11. Nick Rogers says:

    I didn’t notice the continuity glitches. I was referring more to my disappointment with the somewhat-forced franchise continuity of the plot. As for Hunter aging, I may have missed something denoting a jump ahead in time. (That’s what happens when you take notes.) And the burning photo was, SPOILER ALERT presumably, a way to pass the curse on to Katie, END SPOILER ALERT although that was glossed over in about five seconds. I will admit that one thing in this scared the bejeezus out of me: The kitchen "eruption" in the middle of the day. I knew something was coming, but I was looking for something to sneak up from the living room. When that happened, I nearly went vertical.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  12. I liked the other paranormal activity and can’t wait to see this one!

  13. Lance says:

    I definitely thought that the second one was better than the first, but I loved the way that they tied the two of them together. I didn’t see that part coming. I wonder if there is an alternate ending to this one like there was to the first one, I’d be interested in seeing it.

  14. Jaye Miller says:

    I think I can handle this one. Doesn’t seem to scary.

  15. Matt says:

    I laugh more than anything in these films. Not a good sign.

  16. Katie says:

    I really liked how 2 tied into 1, there was a way better plot this time.

  17. chyr says:

    This movie seem scary to me!
    I will pass on this one.

  18. Carolyn says:

    i thought #2 was most certainly better(and frightening) than #1…and #1 even scared me…of course, i believe in such paranormal.

  19. Chukie says:

    Problem is: In these kinds of films, continuity becomes all the more important.

    Unfortunately, the producers didn’t bother. During the first scene post-installment of the cameras, we see the family moving around the kitchen island. During the scene, the cutting board disappears, reappears (with napkin), disappears again, then an entirely new set of dishes reappear.

    Similarly, once the pot makes its dramatic entrance, the pots that float above the same island seem to change types and sizes with nearly every angle change.

    The other problems: We see the newborn in the opening shots and all of a sudden he is one or two years old.

    Also, we are left to our imagination with the one most critical link between this film and its ?predecessor? with the burning photo shot.

    A few good new freak outs aside, this film seemed a progression for progression and shot for shot remake of the first film.

  20. Alyssa says:

    I saw this movie last night, it was not scary but it was very entertaining. I would recommend it and most likely the audience will have you cracking up like it did me.