There's an important warning to be issued for anyone interested in watching PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: if you did not see the first film, or if you saw it but don't remember the plot details very well, you may be a little bit confused about this second film's narrative. Sure, the fact that the film is so effectively scary might make you not care about that stuff. After all, most of today's sub-par horror movies don't even have a plot, so you may not even care much about whether you understand this particular film's plot. But for those who do care about understanding the context of the story, I highly advise watching the first movie at some point before venturing out to see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. In fact, as I write out the synopsis, I'll be assuming that the people reading saw the first one.
You see, I initially thought that this film was destined for a lower rating than its predecessor because its approach to horror is more based on "jump scares" rather than on the subtleties of the original. But then I realized just how intelligently the storyline of this film CONVERGES with that of the first one. The number 2 in this film's title is deceptive. 95% of its events happen BEFORE the events of the first film. So, you can't really call it a sequel, or a prequel for that matter. This film EXPANDS on the first film. It's an excellent complement to it. For those of us who loved the original, this is just more fodder for us to continue savoring. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 will give an incredible amount of satisfaction to those who were engrossed in the first film's storyline.
The events of the first film focused on the story of how during the fall of 2006, Katie (Katie Featherston) and her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), were haunted by a demon in their residence. At the end of the film, Katie gets possessed by the demon, which leads her to kill Micah. We found out nothing else about what happened to Katie. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 begins a few months before all of this happened, in August 2006. We meet Katie's sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who lives in a suburban house with her husband, Dan (Brian Boland), and her stepdaughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim). But now there's a new member in this family: Kristi recently gave birth to baby boy Hunter (played by twins William and Jackson Prieto). Eventually, Katie comes to the house with Micah to visit her sister. There aren't any signs at all yet that Katie has experienced anything out of the ordinary. The situation in Kristi's house is different, though. One day, her house looks like it's been ransacked, yet no valuables were stolen. So, they decide to set-up a camera security system, to surveil most parts of the house. Suddenly, strange noises and events similar to those we saw in the first film start happening in the house, and they're all captured by the cameras.
So, is there any connection between the demon haunting Kristi's house and the one we already know will eventually go after Katie and Micah? The brilliance of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 comes from how amazing a job it does at connecting its story with that of the first film, so much that, instead of treating them as "a first movie, and then the second movie," it would be better to just coalesce them into one magnificent fright-fest. But PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 does more. For those of us who were left wondering "what happens next" after the ending of the original film, we get our answer here, and the answer comes during this second film's terrifying final 10 minutes.
One of the problems I did have with the first movie was that it introduced a character who came to the house to try to "explain" the phenomena that was taking place. I was fearing that a similar thing would happen in this movie, but thankfully, it's handled a lot more subtly. There's a maid working in Kristi's house who seems to be aware of what's going on, though she has a hard time explaining it because she doesn't speak much English. Thankfully, the maid is gone for most of the film, and she only reappears when her presence is absolutely essential. Contrived, sure, but at least we're spared not having to hear a lecture on demonology. I would've much preferred having NO information on what was haunting the characters in the two films. Uncertainty can cause a great sense of dread. It's why THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was so great (still my favorite horror film).
However, there IS an issue that was sort of a problem in the first movie that feels even MORE pronounced in this one, and it's the constant editing cuts, often mid-dialogue. This is jarring (especially when a movie is trying to create a realistic feel), but it's only a minor point. Without a doubt, the most legitimate complaint to be had with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is that the scares are less subtle than those of the first film. Instead of provoking a gradual, increasing sense of terror, the movie delivers its scares by sudden loud noises that will inevitably cause you to jump. For the most part, though, this isn't a problem for me - it's just a different method of scaring you. But it's still scary. The inconsistency, though, comes once we discover that the demon in the first film is, indeed, the same one terrorizing the characters in this film. One may easily wonder why, if most of the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 happened before those of the first film, the demon is so much more blatant in the things it does in the second film.
Still, many will welcome that blatancy, because several of the scenes in this film are undoubtedly terrifying. There's no doubt that this is the most scared I've been in a movie theater this whole year. It may not be saying a lot, considering how awful a state the horror genre is in, but you have to welcome something as intense and thrilling as this when it comes along. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is the perfect companion piece to its predecessor. The way in which the events of both films are integrated is perfectly seamless. While THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT may still remain at apex of horror cinema verite, we have to recognize that the crew behind the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films could've easily decided to just cash in on the first movie's popularity and give us an abomination on the level of BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2. Thankfully, we get the exact opposite of that, and the fact that it was obviously so important for these filmmakers to celebrate and complement the first film's storyline shows that they simply wanted to please the fans of this awesome horror franchise. As one of those fans, I'm very happy with the result.