No sleepless nights here ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, January 21, 2011

No sleepless nights here

Paranormal Activity 2
My rating:

There are a number of reasons why it would be worthwhile to make a movie sequel. If a continuing story had been planned all along. If the previous film ended on an open-ended note. If there are story avenues yet to be explored, or questions yet to be answered. If there are appealing characters whom you want to spend more time with. But Hollywood only knows one reason, and that reason is "if it can make us more money." Paranormal Activity holds the record for most profitable film of all time, so it should come as no surprise that the producers are making a sequel. And y'know, as singular and self-contained as that film was - and that none of the above-mentioned reasons really apply to it - a good sequel could've been made, if it had the right approach to continuing the story.

This isn't it.

Two months before the events of Paranormal Activity, Katie's (Katie Featherston) sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is living with her husband Dan (Brian Boland), her teenage stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and their 1-year-old baby Hunter. After a mysterious burglary - in which every room was trashed except Hunter's, and nothing was stolen except a necklace that Katie gave to Kristi - Dan installs security cameras throughout the house. A series of inexplicable events lead Kristi and Ali to believe the house is haunted, but Dan remains skeptical; when their housekeeper Martine (Vivis Cortez) performs a ritual to ward off evil spirits, Dan fires her. But as the hauntings grow in intensity, Ali starts doing some digging - and what she finds leads her to speculate that someone in Kristi's family line made a deal with a demon, in return for the firstborn male child. And Hunter is the first boy in the family in generations.

Two things Paranormal Activity had going for it were its simplicity and its freshness. These are also the two things its sequel - or prequel, in fact - fails to respect. The basic premise of two ordinary, well-adjusted people terrorised by inexplicable events is plenty scary enough - then along comes this movie that makes those events explicable. This spoils a lot of what made the original movie scary; Katie and Micah could be you, and what happened to them could happen to you. But you're not gonna get that same versimilitude with this one, unless someone in your family made a pact with a demon for which the price is the life of your child. (Which, coincidentally, is almost the exact same plot of Damping Malam.)

And so Paranormal Activity 2 feels more like a movie, rather than a depiction of almost-real people to whom these things are almost-really happening. It trades in horror clich├ęs, like the dog that barks at unseen things, and the ethnic housekeeper who just happens to know how to Deal With This Shit. (Yes, 'cos in Hollywoodland, anyone who isn't Caucasian is a veritable ghostbuster in disguise. Bet you wish your Indonesian maid was so handy.) Even its characters aren't as well-developed; Kristi and Ali are just there to be freaked out by the freaky stuff, and Dan is there to pooh-pooh their fears because he just happens to never be there when the freaky stuff happens. Katie and Micah felt much more real, and even if Micah was a jerk, he was at least a believable jerk.

Then there's how the movie basically rehashes the original's scares, which screenwriter Michael R. Perry and director Tod Williams probably think are clever callbacks. Stuff moves by itself, doors slam, footsteps appear, and someone gets dragged feet-first by an invisible force all over again; what made it scary the first time was that all these happened while Katie and Micah were asleep, but this movie shows no such restraint. There's no sense of dread, no mounting terror; you're just basically waiting for the next scary scene. And when it comes, it's your standard-order loud-noise "boo!" moment. Once again, Paranormal Activity was a lot more sparing with these, saving its biggest jump-scares for its ending. With Paranormal Activity 2, jump-scares are the only trick it has in its bag.

So it's a lesser sequel, and that's really disappointing to someone who really liked the original. But I guess, as a stand-alone movie, it's not all bad. Its jump-scares are effective. Its basically more of the same of the first film. And despite the characters being underdeveloped, they're basically nice folks you'll enjoy spending time with. Perhaps as a bone thrown to viewers who noticed Featherston's pleasing boobiliciousness (*raises hand*), we get scenes of Katie at the pool in a bikini; ditto Sprague Grayden and Molly Ephraim, both of whom sport plenty nice cleavage too. Oh, and I watched this in Digital 2D, which cost me maybe two or three ringgit extra, but which I thought was worth it. The picture quality was lovely crisp and clear, and even when the movie wasn't engaging me, it was always nice to look at. Especially during Even besides the poolside scenes.

But yes, as a sequel/prequel/what-have-you, this is lame - even given the fact that its predecessor was a film that really really did not need a sequel. It ends on a hook for a third installment, which has already been announced and which will certainly be hitting theatres this time next year. But I'll be expecting even less from it, since Perry and Williams have chosen the absolute wrong approach to sequel-izing Paranormal Activity. Here's one last reason why: it's a prequel, right? Takes place just two months before the first one, right? So in the first one, was Katie distraught or in mourning over the terrible things that recently befell her sister's family? No. There you go, folks - sense of danger, all gone.

Expectations: yay the folks who made Woohoo!