Review: “Paranormal Activity 2″ (2010)

Honestly, I was surprised when I heard there was going to be a Paranormal Activity 2. Paranormal Activity was such a compact, one-off film that a sequel sounded real trite.

Once word started to spread of the very Hollywood remake (with Oren Peli only functioning as a producer), it seemed like history repeating itself. It was unclear for whom a sequel to this “original” horror film was intended, since they had planned to make the film in the same exact way they had made PA1. And, since we were all like “meh” and everyone in the world seemed content having already demanded it, WTF were they thinking? New writers? New director? Why don’t they just rerelease the original film, grope it further, exhaust its breast of all its milk, heavy-pet it until bruised, and then leave all the actors and the producer/writer/director/editor out on the street??

Yet, a sequel was still made. And – I hate to say it – it’s actually pretty interesting. (And, unfortunately, a good review would have to be somewhat spoilery.)

Paranormal Activity 2 is a sequel that seeks to mimic and exploit the conventions established in PA1. As filmmakers, it’s genius to craft a sequel this way, because everyone interested in seeing a sequel has already drunk the Kool-Aid of the original and are eager for more scares. This allows the filmmakers to play with different amateur filmmaking outlets (here, security cameras), can guide the audience’s eye where to look for frights (like the bed sheets in PA1), and can break every rule of being preyed upon a demon that PA1 established. Surprisingly, the notes Hollywood made on PA1 allowed for this decent sequel to be exactly what should have happened with The Descent 2: you use what the audience knows, then fuck with their minds.

NOTE: Let me tell you now: I hate doing this, but I’m going to have to use some spoilers in order to explain this film. I highly recommend not reading or hearing or even saying the words “Paranormal Activity” near family, friends, or strangers because they WILL want to talk about it and will likely spoil the movie for you. Thus, SPOILERS START HERE. AND LAST FOR THE DURATION OF THIS REVIEW.

Firstly, PA2 does an excellent job of expanding the previous film’s story. It may even be said that PA2‘s only purpose is to compliment PA1. And, if we learned anything from part one, it’s that Micah and Katie are very shallow people, with an OK relationship, who have terrible taste … and they are not that compelling. PA2 takes the focus far away from them, and instead focuses the lens on Katie’s family through her sister, Kristi.

Kristi is a nebulously older sister who is married with a family. This “well off” Carlsbad family includes her douche older husband, the seemingly-close-to-her-age step-daughter, a very, very good German Shepherd, an on/off spiritually stereotyped Hispanic housekeeper, and the newborn spawn of Kristi and husband: Hunter. After a mysterious ransacking of their house, Kristi’s family decides to install security cameras in a few rooms, which – for the sake of the film – adds another camera to this family’s obsession with filming everything.

We see that Kristi and Katie are close and that they do a lot together: they have pool parties together, they have barbecues together, and they even have each other’s backs (when Kristi and her husband want to go out, Katie babysits, etc.). We quickly learn that something isn’t right here: Kristi’s family suspects there are strange things happening in the house. They keep hearing noises, their ladybug pool cleaner is letting itself out of the pool, and a lot of things happen on their CCTV that they do not notice (but we do). This is all considered a joke and really cool to Kristi’s very smart, inquisitive step-daughter, Ali. Eventually, they start hearing unexplained sounds in the home.

“Did you hear that?,” they ask you. We as the audience shake our heads, knowing better: it’s not a haunting – it’s a demon. And, because of Katie and Kristi’s complicated history, something more is happening here than the red herring of a newborn.

Because of that, we’re HYPER sensitive to what is going on and are very attuned to whatever happens to Katie. We all note her interaction with baby Hunter, we all wonder why Micah isn’t around, we all want to know why she is always babysitting … then, we realize, this all is happening sixty days before Micah Sloat’s death.

Why is this? This is a prequel-sequel. A surprise, clever prequel AND sequel. Why? Because in order to expand PA1′s story, we have to blow Katie’s world out, backwards and simultaneously. What DID happen in her childhood? Because it happened to her, did it happen to her sister? How does this affect those around Kristi and Katie? When shit went down for Katie and Micah, what was happening at Kristi’s? And why does Kristi have slightly better taste in interiors than Katie? We will only get some of those answers. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief; but, if you do, you will enjoy it.

As we explore this, things happen a lot faster than in PA1. The pace really races forward and, again, is not confined by how things happened in the original. Activity occurs during the day, we learn to never hang pots from your kitchen ceiling, and you find that no one listens when the step-daughter cries “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE ALONE WITH HER.”

From that, the handheld cameras and genius CCTV convention tell the story and serve as our omnipotent eye. When things go down, we as the camera go “Nu-uh, girlfriend: RE-WATCH YOUR HOME VIDEO.” That drives the film faster, makes it a lot more vicious, and does a good job of stirring up scares and maintaining a very tense tone (so much so that pure darkness or a stagnant camera is cause for nail biting). It begs you to ask questions and want to watch, take notes, and consider the events of the new film to the old film: fittingly, PA2 is PA1′s more thoughtful and intellectual older sister. Again: you have to suspend disbelief and buy into the world, but if you successfully do this, you will really enjoy the movie.

Moreover, you will find this film scarier that the original because you know how it is out to scare you. I stoically sat my way through PA1, understanding why it was “great” without really being scared. This time around? I did a good amount of nail biting and was a little unsettled at points. This isn’t because it’s particularly frightening, but because the movie does such a sly job of maintaining a tense tone and delivering appropriate scares. I was pressed into my seat, trying to make things go away, and I could spy other audience members nuzzling their faces into each others’ shoulders. This movie isn’t just clever – it is, in fact, scary.

Once you move beyond the overacting, the (again) great/”How did they do that?” effects, and the sight of that ugly-ass house from PA1, you see that PA2 makes the rabbit hole that is the Paranormal Activity franchise deeper. Like the original, you can’t estimate if a sequel is in the works, but hey – don’t be surprised if we catch step-daughter Ali hunting for Hunter or, more likely, a visit to K&K’s mother’s old folks home to get to the bottom of this bargain with the devil.

I know many will disagree, but I was quite impressed with this sequel to a movie I thought was just “OK.” You do have to see PA1 to see PA2. You do have to check your cynicism at the door and set your bar really low. You do have to appreciate the excellent dog acting. You will probably hate the ending but – hey – the ten minutes preceding are the tensest of the year. (And, again, folks: mockumentary horror films have to end quickly because the filmmaker dies in the end.)

I recommend this movie. It made me appreciate PA1 and the power of abusing silence and darkness, and it did a great job of exploiting the classic home alone trope of “Did I hear something? OH FUCK I HEARD SOMETHING.”

All together now: OH BROTHER.


Paranormal Activity 2 is rated R for horror violence, a lot of language (mostly from the foul-mouthed teenager), a few “pussy”s, abuse of animals, and … wait: why is this rated R? That’s right: THAT HOUSE.

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A gay military kid who lived up and down the east coast finally decided to venture out West--and hasn't returned. With a love for horror films, champagne, short shorts, and CAPS LOCK, he spends his time writing, doing comedy, and being an assistant (oy). He has a dog and collects magazines with Lady Gaga on the cover, too.