Bigger Budget but Less Thrills
My original concern about Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to a very low-budget but effective horror movie, was that a bigger budget might decrease its charm. After all, when you know a movie was made for peanuts, its special effects will have you legitimately wondering, "How did they do that?" and "That's creative!" But when more money is available to invite professional techniques, the viewer might take the effects more for granted. As it turns out, I needn't have worried about that -- instead, this movie disappointed me on a whole different level.
In spirit, Paranormal Activity 2 follows the first film -- stationary cameras survey a large house haunted by an invisible force, so when the lights go out, we watch things move by themselves and hear occasional sudden noises. But whereas the first movie paced the paranormal events to create a steady buildup of dread, suspense, and anticipation, the sequel decides to move much more slowly, barely cracking a scare moment until roughly an hour in (about two-thirds of the movie), and even then it basically repeats ideas and stunts from its predecessor.
I believe I understand what director Tod Williams was going for -- more anticipation, more "bomb under the table," as Hitchcock might have put it; but here it not only drags out too long, it fails to pay off at the end (it revisits a stunt for the climax, and in this case I can say knowledge of a higher budget makes it less effective). And while the movie's story ties in rather nicely with the one from the first movie, we should remember that the appeal of the original didn't really come from its story.
Paranormal Activity 2 has it backwards -- nobly, it seems -- trying to pad the tale with more details and mystery while focusing less on the cheap thrills. In this case, though, the cheap thrills -- in both senses of the word -- were more fun.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "R" for some language and brief violent material.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.