“I’m not really evil.”
So says Katie (Katie Featherston) in Paranormal Activity 2, but those of us who have seen the original, no-frills horror film know better. In this creepy, clever use of the prequel format, we find out a little more about how she got that way.
Katie pops up here and there in Paranormal Activity 2 — it’s set about a month before her demon-possessed antics in the first film — but the movie is mostly concerned with her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Kristi’s family: husband Daniel (Brian Boland), teen stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) and newborn son. We watch them mostly via 24-hour surveillance cameras that they’ve installed after coming home from a vacation to find nearly every room ransacked. Was it the work of teen vandals or something else?
Again, we know the answer, so Paranormal Activity 2 inevitably loses some of the original’s ingenious punch, when we were as bewildered as the characters by the bizarre bumps in the night that were recorded on camera. Here, when pots inexplicably fall from a rack or doors slowly seem to open and close on their own, we can predict where things are headed.
Still, the picture works. New director Tod Williams maintains the original’s slow-burn approach, initially evoking jolts from something as simple as the placement of mirrors in the baby’s bedroom. The frights increase from there — including an excruciating sequence in which Ali gets locked out of the house while babysitting — eventually building up to a finale that’s as shockingly aggressive as that of the original.
The family dynamic, meanwhile, adds an interesting layer. Even though we only see them interact in home-movie snippets, we can sense that these are intricate relationships — between Kristi and Ali, between Ali and her dad — and that they have only become more complicated with the arrival of the new baby. As a portrait of an American family under paranormal siege, this is a prequel that can proudly stand next to Poltergeist.