Back in 1999 there was a lot of hoopla generated about a film titled “The Blair Witch Project.” This movie was supposed to be so frightening that it caused people to pass out or run from the theater before it was over. Some said the film was so terrifying that they would never again venture into the woods. Being the curious person that I am, I ventured forth to the local cinema to take my turn at being scared to death, but what I saw was one of the worst films I have ever had the misfortune of sitting through that packed all the fright power of kindergarten Halloween party.
At the time I vowed that I would never again be lured into such a sophomorically inept filmy by cleverly misleading advertising. And that is exactly why I refused to waste my time watching “Paranormal Activity” when it was playing in theaters three years ago. However when I began to consider what film to review this week, my choices came down to a couple of sequels – “Jackass 2” or “Paranormal Activity 2.” Thus, it was either see a bunch of guys attempting to maim themselves or a sequel to another one of those films purporting to be heartstoppingly frightening.
Because I was not interested in watching Johnny Knoxville and his buddies engage in imaginative exercises of self-torture and because I had heard that the thriller had some elements to make it worthwhile, I opted for “Paranormal Activity 2.” And was treated to still another insufferably boring and overly hyped piece of garbage masquerading as a bona fide horror film.
The movie is shot in the style of a documentary and begins as Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden) arrives home from the hospital after having given birth to her son, Hunter. Living in the same house with Kristi and Hunter are her husband, Dan (Brian Boland) and Ali (Molly Ephraim), who is Kristi’s stepdaughter. The other member of the household is Martine (Vivis Cortez), Hunter’s nanny, and the family also has a German shepherd named Abby. Another important person in the story is Kristi’s sister Katie (Katie Featherston), who was a main character in the first film.
Shortly after Hunter turns 1 year old, someone apparently breaks into the Reys’ house while they are out. When they return, it looks as if burglars have been searching for something because most of the rooms in the house have been ransacked. In order to prevent a recurrence of the break-in, Dan has a security system installed. Surveillance cameras are strategically placed over the front door outside, in the back yard overlooking the swimming pool, in the main entryway, in the kitchen, in the living room, and in Hunter’s room.
Up until the point of the installation of the security system, the film was shot like a home video, but now we watch most of it through the new surveillance cameras. At various times of the day we see shots of the automatic pool cleaner floating around, and then we move inside for alternating shots of the kitchen, the living room, the entryway, the stairs leading to the second floor, and Hunter’s room. This visual sequence is repeated again and again and again and again and again while we look for something to happen. And very little does until the final 20 or 30 minutes when all hell breaks loose.
Now here’s the thing you need to remember about this movie. Those who believe in ghosts and other types of paranormal activity (I don’t.) probably are going to find it both frightening and disturbing (I didn’t.). Throughout the movie doors open and close, apparently by themselves, and some other objects mysteriously move. Lights also flicker and go out, and the pool cleaner keeps jumping out of the water. Then toward the end of the film, things become quite violent.
Oren Peli is the man who directed the original “Paranormal Activity,” and in the production notes for that film he explained what he was trying to accomplish.
“One of the things I wanted to do was create something that people could say defined horror for their generation, the way after ‘Psycho’ people said they would never take another shower; after ‘Jaws’ and ‘Open Water’ that they would never again swim in the ocean; and after ‘Blair Witch’ that they would never again go camping in the woods. I figured, well, sleeping at home is something you can’t really avoid. So if I can make people scared of being at home, ‘Paranormal Activity’ might do something.”
I assume that Tod Williams (“The Door in the Floor”), who directed this film, was aiming for exactly the same effect. From personal experience I can tell you that after seeing “Psycho,” I thought twice about taking a shower, and after watching “Jaws” and “Open Water,” I confined my ocean activities to water shallow enough so that I could see my feet. But there is no way that “Paranormal Activity 2” will make me afraid to be at home because I simply do not believe in any of it. Of course I don’t buy the idea of demonic possession either, and that’s why films like “The Exorcist” really do nothing for me.
The fact that “Paranormal Activity 2” (Give it a score of three.) has been doing very well at the box office is a testament to the appeal it has for those who buy into the whole idea. Certainly they are entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but until a spirit drags me kicking and screaming from my bedroom, I will continue be a nonbeliever. And if there is a “Paranormal Activity 3,” you can count me out.