Like the endless SAW films before it, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is becoming an annual Halloween tradition. The first was a clever low-budget surprise and the second is more like another Halloween tradition — the haunted house. You know the haunted house run by the local high school or amusement park. You walk slowly through dark corridors and periodically there is a scary face staring at you around a corner or someone jumps out and yells boo. There's no story only the promise of scares.
This second outing is a prequel of sorts. The events of this film take place around the events of the first, but with new characters at the center. I make this clear because if you didn't see the first film you wouldn't know what the text on the screen "60 Days Before Micah's Death" means. The new haunting victims are the sister of the first film's Katie (Katie Featherston) and her family. Kristi (Sprague Grayden, TV's SIX FEET UNDER) has just had a baby boy named Hunter (William Juan & Jackson Xenia Prieto). Soon after bringing home the newborn, strange occurrences begin, which increase as the baby gets older. Kristi's step daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim, TV's LAST MAN STANDING) believes it's a ghost, while her husband Daniel (Brian Boland, THE UNBORN) disregards all in supernatural explanations.
Others differ at what to do. Martine (Vivis Colombetti, GAS FOOD LODGING), the Spanish-speaking nanny, tries to drive out the bad spirits in the house with incantations and incense. Because isn't that an employment requirement for ethnic servants in horror films? Katie, who had bad run-ins with spirits as a child, tells Kristi to just ignore it or it will just get worse. Ignoring your house trashed or every cabinet in the kitchen opening at the same time is hard to do though.
Like the first film, this one carries the found footage conceit, but with far less success. After the trashing of the house, which is believed to be a robbery attempt, Daniel installs security cameras everywhere. A great deal of the activity, or more accurately inactivity, is seen through these vantage points. When the film isn't frozen on a static shot, waiting like one of those annoying prank Internet videos that have something jump out and scream at you after a half minute of looking at nothing, the film attempts character dynamics with forced home video moments. But nothing gets any deeper than family or supernatural banality. The film is about as tedious as watching a stranger's home movies.
Oren Peli's original focused on how the supernatural events transformed the relationship between Katie and Micah. It was just as much a character study as a really effective horror film. Now Peli has handed the creative reigns to others. Director Tod Williams (THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR) creates tension, but not because we care about the characters, it's only to prepare ourselves for the next boo moment (just like a local haunted house). The domesticated setting only adds to the level of tension because we can relate to the scary feelings of walking across our dark homes late at night wondering what that noise is. But after awhile you know where the noise is coming from and you stop being scared and start feeling stupid for being scared in the first place. By the end of this film I was laughing at so many of the film's attempts at being spooky. Oooooooo night vision.
Everything about this film annoyed me. It's like at a bad haunted house where someone jumps out and doesn't scare you, but continues to dance around right in front of your face as if that is going to send you scurrying away in horror. Just like I know there is a 6th grade gym teacher behind the mask, I was fully aware of the director and writers trying to scare me. It's a manipulation not a movie. If that's what you want then rev up the chain-less chainsaw and have a good ole time. But if you want a film, buy a ticket to something else.