Cheap thrills, recycled script sink prequel


Orel Peli, a former video game programmer, transformed himself into a film director and screenwriter for his surprisingly enjoyable psychological thriller "Paranormal Activity." The film, like its creator, was a refreshing addition to a genre littered with recycled techniques; however, its unwarranted prequel, "Paranormal Activity 2," serves as another strike against the film industry’s perpetual attempt to capitalize on something uniquely beautiful.

Nearly perfecting the idea of minimalism, Peli created the original flick almost entirely by himself and used a cast of only five, filmed by a single camera. The demon haunting the main characters was brought to life through tension-building techniques and a few, simple special effects; the camera, always manned by a cast member or on a tripod, evolved from a story-telling medium and into a character. "Paranormal Activity" was a sensation because it avoided cheap thrills, created a believable experience and tortured audiences with its agonizing build-up.

"Paranormal Activity 2," directed by Tod Williams ("The Door in the Floor"), doesn’t do any of these things. Instead, the film uses several cameras, integrated into the story as security devices and as a handheld video recorder, to capture a poltergeist that works through a series of events, rather than as an actual character. The eerie atmosphere of the first film is replaced with explosive actions and sudden, unexpected noises –a disappointing follow-up that’s akin to taking a haunted hayride the night after discovering a deceased loved one’s image is missing from a family portrait.

The story is almost identical to the original film: a family notices bizarre occurrences, the main female character connects these events to a traumatizing childhood haunting, things go awry and Micah Sloat (played by the actor of the same name, "Paranormal Acitivty") is thrown around like a ragdoll by a possessed version of his girlfriend, Katie Featherston (played by the actress of the same name, "Paranormal Activity").

The main characters in this film are Katie’s sister, Kristi Rey (played by Sprague Grayden, "Six Feet Under") her husband, Dan (played by Brian Boland, "The Express"), their infant son, Hunter, Dan’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Ali (played by Molly Ephraim, "College Road Trip"), and a German Shepherd. This family is pretty boring and, like the cast of the first film, is apparently allergic to turning on a light as they run downstairs to investigate the latest bang.

Not a single cast member really sticks out, although it is worth noting the dog and toddler are fantastic, considering their abilities and contemporaries; the dialogue does little more than imitate the first film’s lines, creating a wobbly bridge between hauntings. However, the characters do create a few instances that preview events of the first film, which serves more as a last-ditch effort to connect the stories, rather than as a means of explaining how the original "Paranormal Activity" came to be.

But in all of the film’s shortcomings, none is more disappointing than the explanation of the demon’s purpose, which completely violates the first film’s story. Ali discovers Hunter is the first male born in Kristi’s family since the 1930s, making him the likely target of a demon looking to finish a contract signed with a wealthy ancestor, the kind of contract that evokes singular possession of the 10th Plague of Egypt, and Kristi discusses these hauntings with her sister, who vehemently advises her to ignore the striking evidence of the unnatural. Great, except that in the first film the demon always wanted Katie. It wanted to torture her when she was a child, which Kristi witnessed but never experienced, and it wanted to soil her bed sheets when she was an adult.

This story attempts to explain the adult hauntings of Katie, but completely disregards the lifelong relationship that exists between her and her paranormal buddy, unless, and this is a big assumption, the demon was capable of realizing its future need for controlling Katie when she was just a child.

If this prequel to "Paranormal Activity" was released as a straight-to-DVD feature, then every fault in the film could be entirely understood but, as a theatrical continuation of an acclaimed movie, the negatives of this film are unforgivable. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not a good movie.

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