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Review

‘Paranormal’ sequel instills doubt, uncertainty

Michael Brun

October 28, 2010

A follow-up to last year’s polarizing horror mega-hit, “Paranormal Activity 2” stays true to the style and tone of the original. If you snored through the first one, then you should probably avoid the sequel. If the first one scared you senseless, then you too should think twice about seeing it. Not because it is an inferior movie; rather, it might be too intense for you to handle.

Following the “Saw” formula for horror sequels, the plot of “Activity 2” is heavily intertwined with the events of its predecessor. The scares can stand on their own, but the plot is really designed for those who are familiar with the story thus far. As both a sequel and a prequel, it not only progresses the narrative of the series, but also revisits and further develops the plot of the original.

So what made “Paranormal Activity” such an instant classic? Aside from its groundbreaking and innovative advertising, there are two reasons it resonated so strongly with audiences: it felt believable, and it hit close to home. “Activity 2” does this just as well, if not better. Realism and believability are still the focus this time around. The cast is devoid of recognizable stars, helping to maintain the illusion that the movie is made from real home video footage. The dialog exchanges between characters feel natural and spontaneous as well, giving a sense that the script was little more than a brief outline.

The special effects are also very realistic. As with the first movie, I had a hard time figuring out how many of them were accomplished. Because the grainy, hand-held style conceals the use of computer effects, the final product looks spine-chillingly believable. One botched effect could dispel the suspension of disbelief for the entire movie, but they are all executed with seamless precision.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the first “Activity” was how it turned a suburban home — one of the least frightening locations imaginable — into a claustrophobic dungeon. “Activity 2” builds on this concept even further. The movie takes unassuming household items and transforms them into instruments of terror. In this way, the horror of “Activity 2” will hit close to home for many viewers. Instead of finding comfort when you return from the theater, you may find that your nightmare is just beginning.

This kind of horror is the result of a less-is-more philosophy. It is all about the build up and letting your imagination run wild. For every scene in which something paranormal happens, there are twice as many that are red herrings. The doubt and uncertainty the movie instills will have your eyes darting around the screen, frantically looking for a shadow or a sign of movement. It is an exhausting experience, one that will keep you on edge even after the movie is finished. When a sequel is rushed into production as quickly as “Paranormal Activity 2” was, you can almost guarantee a drop in quality. Different director, different writers, bigger scale are all ingredients for disaster. And yet, despite the odds, “Activity 2” is not only a worthy successor, it also surpasses the original in many regards. When it comes to October horror releases, they don’t get much better than this.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.