Paranormal sequel could use more Activity

Playing along with the guise of Paranormal Activity 2 – that it is composed of “found footage” – we wonder about half way into the film: what happened? Could they not find enough interesting footage? Did they find too much footage and then get confused, putting the wrong footage in the movie? Why doesn’t any of this footage show anything happening?

Katie, our possessed protagonist from the previous film, apparently has a sister, Kristi, whose family’s experiences with evil spirits provide us with the story of our present film. Upon Katie’s appearance at the family home, we’re informed that we’re witnessing events occurring just months before those of the initial film.

This familial dynamic, including Kristi’s widowed husband Dan, his daughter Ali, the nanny Martine, and the baby Hunter, provides opportunity for a more robust and complex set of character relationships, and more perspectives on the goings-on.

For example, being the primary family cinematographer, Ali’s point of view is that with which we’re most aligned through the film. This, along with casual conversations amongst the family (including frequent visitors Katie and her husband Micah) affords us direct access to characters’ reactions.

Alternatively, these ways into the characters’ feelings, while managing to be plausible instances of home-movie candidness, are still somewhat obtuse. This is to say, at the expense of naturalizing the camera’s presence within the action, the film suffers from a certain degree of “all tell no show” disease on the part of the characters.

This naturalization fortunately extends to the actors, at least for the first parts of the film. Everyone is enjoyable and believable enough during the film’s long and winding set-up, giving us a comfortable sense of the family’s easy manner and disposition.

But it soon comes time for the hauntings, and the anxiety, fear, and emotional conflicts that go along with them. This is where the performances should approach their fever pitch, drawing the audience in to the dread; but sadly, the acting leaves something to be desired on this front.

This flaw definitely hurts the film’s fear factor, but by no means is it damning. Granted, all of the scare-tricks (bewitched people, haunted doors, and the like) are lifted directly out of Oren Peli’s original film, but they are employed effectively, allowing director Tod Williams to re-produce the suspense.

The biggest block to the film’s terror is that there’s not a trace of it until 40 minutes in. Had we spent a little less time on family poolside chats and a teenager painting her toenails, and a little more time on the phantoms running loose in the house, we may have had a picture that held us from beginning to end.

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