Wow. I never knew you could be worried and relieved at the same time.
You can tell SAW 3D has its investors nervous. They’re about to lose their biggest horror cash-cow, hoping it isn’t as big a gory mess financially as it is visually. This is that last hoorah for Jigsaw, and proper send-offs aside, that’s a lot of money gone. Forever. No more Happy Halloweens for Lions Gate, unless they get another franchise off the ground.
Enter PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.
Good or bad, that’s happening. A quaint capable little horror-movie-that-could got wrangled into the Hollywood sequel-machine and we’re getting a film prepped to crank out money Tobin Bell’s voice should’ve been. Bigger budget, more cameras, larger cast, more bells and whistles.
But does that save it? Does that, in fact, make PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 any good?
The scares are bigger. They can be, at times, far more intense. The budget is apparent, and the enthusiasm to make a good movie is there. And if the screams of two-hundred teenaged girls as they dug their nails into their boyfriends’ arms were any indication, it worked. It also, surprisingly, has a sense of humor that’s downright enviable, which actually lends to its reality rather than takes away from it.
But somehow, it loses something.
The first was done on nothing. Ideas were made inside a creative pressure cooker, because money was not abundant, and it’s so often those ideas that pay off in the end. You’d think bigger budgets would help in that regard, but in gaining greater scope, you can lose sight of many more things. There isn’t the kind of condensed minimalist thinking that can be more satisfying simply because it is simple.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, to me, loses sight. Not because it’s a shallow experience, nor is it one made purely for moolah. But there was a need to up the ante that also grounded other things and kept them there. SAW II did this. Many sequels do this. And while it isn’t a bad film, or even an inferior film, at its heart - maybe a different film than the original set out to be.
Point in case: happenstance or not, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY presented one of the most honest and realistic portrayals of demonic harrassment ever seen on film. There is no real rhyme or reason to its madness. There are no secret pacts, no prophetic reasonings, no pea-soup…no explanations. And having that primordial sense of not knowing - not being able to know - makes it all the more terrifying. There is no why.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is all about the why. And when you kill that notion of not knowing, whether you want to know it or not, by explaining everything away, you lose something in your anticipation. You especially lose something while trying to explain something supernatural. They do here.
What’s more, in the original film, for all the scares that were a visual experience, pure and simple, there was some level of necessity to them. They may not have been what you call cerebral, but there was substance, maybe. They appealed to a fear that was primeval, child-like even, that has been there since we were made. And, at least on a personal level, they appealed to a fear that I’ve had before. Up-close and personal.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is all about the bells and whistles. It’s all jump-scares, rehashes of scary beats from the first movie, and whatever can be enhanced with CGI. They work, make no mistake, sometimes to gonad-clenching effect - but it’s Hollywood. The scares were complimentary in the first film; they’re just showboating here.
It seems like an awful lot of flack for a movie that has more than redeemable qualities. Admittedly, there is a level of disappointment for me. But it is far from unwatchable. I recommend it, because there are going to be a majority of viewers who aren’t so stodgy as I am, and will see nothing but good scary things to be had here. I liked it, even if I have hang-ups I can’t shake. I’m especially excited to see they are trying to build a tight narrative around these movies, like they did SAW, even if in doing so they may actually cause more problems for themselves.
But coming from a point of view that borders on pomp, but in no way expert, I know there is a chance to be taken here, trying to make this as real as possible. Yet, already, the franchise is falling to gimmicks, the kind that doom good things before they have a chance at all. And in the depiction of the genuinely demonic, that would be a great loss indeed.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 = B-
Better luck PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3.