If there was any lesson to draw from the first "Paranormal Activity," it's that men should take their girlfriends' concerns seriously, especially when it comes to encounters with the demonic.
Much of the appeal of "Paranormal Activity" was its seeming grass roots growth, a film made for under $15,000 that went from midnight screenings to earn nearly $200 million at the worldwide box-office. Though that path was indeed carefully orchestrated, the sequel risks losing some of its "Blair Witch" realism with that very Hollywood "2" in its title.
"Paranormal Activity 2" gets the benefit of a wide opening release, but it has stayed quite true to its predecessor's simplistic formula of amateur footage and no-frills frights.
Some elements have been beefed up. Tod Williams ("The Door in the Floor") has been brought in to direct the script by Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli, who wrote and directed the first "Paranormal Activity."
That film focused on a young couple whose California house is haunted by a demon. The insensitive boyfriend videotapes everything in hopes of both proof and amusement. The sequel is again set in a SoCal home (in the summer of 2006) where a demon is making domestic mischief.
Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Dan (Brian Bolden) have a baby boy and a teenager, Ally (Molly Ephraim), from Dan's first marriage. Horror film cliches have also been added to the household: a cross-bearing Latin nanny, and a dog who, naturally, can sense the supernatural. (Cats never get this role.)
Kristi is the sister to Katie (Katie Featherston), who starred in the first "Paranormal Activity." About 15 minutes into the sequel, a title card informs us that the movie takes place 60 days before the last film. It's a prequel on the sly.
Like the first, "Paranormal Activity 2" is presented like found footage. After what the family thinks is a break-in, Dan hires a security company to install cameras throughout the house. These surveillance views, with running time code in the corner, are our perspective for most everything.
The film is fairly successful in its realistic family dialogue, and the largely unknown cast does well enough in appearing natural.
The demon's haunting is an exceptionally slow build, a pace similar to the original. First the family notices some odd sounds, a pot falling in the kitchen, lights turning off suddenly. The robotic pool cleaner seems hellbent on evolving into a land creature, sunning poolside each morning after spending the night roaming underwater.
Dan consistently underestimates the threat. Kristi wonders if her and her sister's childhood dalliance with witchcraft is behind it. Katie, a skeptic at first, is quickly convinced and researches demon mythology online.
As the demon slowly ratchets up the horror, the film gradually moves further into predictability and horror convention. The mock-documentary style isn't worth the payoff.
"Paranormal Activity 2" is better made and not quite as paper thin as the original, but by replicating the bare-bones B-film, the sequel sacrifices any chance for distinction.
Now, having seen this demon's methods repeated, we can only wonder at its strange habits. We can deduce that it's a spirit that likes to take its time — so subtle at first, leaving clues like a cat burglar. Given its preference for frightening through kitchen cabinets and light fixtures, it must be an Ikea fan.
"Paranormal Activity," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated R for some language and brief violent material. Running time: 91 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.