Thursday 24 February 2011

Today's Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Here's how the story goes. Someone makes a fresh and original movie, everyone loves it and it makes buttloads of money. "That was pretty cool," thinks Hollywood, "let's make another one!" Everyone goes to see it, then moans that it wasn't as good as the original. Every. Single. Time.

Paranormal Activity 2 is the newest horror movie in the "found footage" style, brought into the mainstream with The Blair Witch Project over 10 years ago and attempted by many ever since. There have been a few good efforts, such as the monster movie Cloverfield and the Spanish zombie film REC, which a lot of people refused to watch 'cause it was Spanish. So they remade it in American. Sigh. Anyway, Paranormal Activity has clearly been the breakaway hit of the genre. Filmed on a budget of just $15,000, it made a shit load more of that. So here we have the sequel in all its Hollywood £3m budget glory.

The story basically involved a family who have weird shit happen to them in their house, so they install a load of cameras to check out what's going on. Then even more weird shit happens. It's a ghost, y'see, or is it something else? We'll just call it a ghost, it's a thing you don't see that moves stuff. So the family gets increasingly freaked out, freakier shit happens and it all builds up to the climax. But while there is a clear progression of the tension throughout the movie, it doesn't let you calm your nerves. See, Paranormal Activity did something within the genre that hasn't been done much before, but is so simple. They left the camera in one place. All the stuff happens at night, and it's all in one take. Most horror movies provide you with certain camera angles, musical cues etc. that let you know something's gonna happen, but Paranormal Activity took all these cues away and just made things happen whenever it felt like it without letting you know in advance. That is why it's so scary, and that is why people loved the original.

It's also part of the problem with Paranormal Activity 2. In the first movie there's the one camera. It's either staying still at night or being carried round during the day to examine weird stuff. In the second movie there are 7 cameras, and cuts frequently happen between them. While stuff can still happen at any time, the tension is greatly reduced by the amount of times your attention is shifted somewhere else. Another thing, probably due to the influence of Hollywood, this feels more like a movie. It's still well done, but from the moment you see the main female and think "Huh, that's the chick from 24" it loses its authenticity. Add that to the fact that one of the characters from the first movie is introduced with big white text basically saying "THIS IS THE GUY FROM THE FIRST ONE", and the way that the family leave their branded food products all over the place and seem to watch a TV channel that only airs adverts, something just doesn't seem right.

Still, Paranormal Activity 2 is good. It still has a good amount of scares, but more straying towards the "things that go bump in the night" instead of some of the weirdness seen in the original. One thing I don't get is why the ghost goes through so much stuff before he goes after the prize. I assume there's some kind of spiritual level up system. Move enough doors slightly, and you can make a bump. Make some of those and you can knock down a pan. I know, I know, it's to advance the plot, but that ghost is just a drama queen.

There seem to be a few cheap shots thrown in, such as the only person knowing anything about spirits being the Mexican housemaid, and the addition of a baby seemingly just to make people think "Oh shit, what's gonna happen to the baby?", but I jumped quite a lot throughout and the tension still doesn't really let up, despite the glaring flaws. It's building on the tried and tested formula of the original, and for once Hollywood didn't screw it up beyond repair. The ending does trail off a little to be predictable and lame, but as I say, it's about the journey, not the destination.

I don't see how they could make the jump from a $15,000 budget to £3m by adding a few more actors and cameras, so i'll take some for my rating. Also because the franchise is a cash cow. See? It works on two levels.

My rating:

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