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Feature


I’m a bad horror fan, in that I don’t tend to keep up with the popular trends in the genre. In 2007 and 2008 a $15,000 fright feature called Paranormal Activity opened to huge fanfare at various film festivals. Paramount acquired the rights for a song, and opened the film wide in 2009. Paranormal Activity then went on to make nearly $200 million world wide, making it one of the most profitable movies of all time, nearly reaching Blair Witch Project numbers. As I’ve grown tired of the ‘found footage’ horror subgenre I never bothered to see Paranormal Activity, despite respecting its healthy box office tow. Now I’ve been asked to review the sequel, aptly titled Paranormal Activity 2, and what do you know, but Paranormal Activity is available on the Netflix Instantview. So to avoid making an ass out of myself I’m spending the extra time, which means this will kind of be a review of both films.

Paranormal Activity 2: Unrated
Paranormal Activity is well enough made, and often captures the hyperrealism required from a found footage horror flick (even if I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the actors). The concept also makes more sense in this context than in films like Cloverfield (maybe Micah should put the camera down, but it makes sense that he wouldn’t), where the audience is left to constantly wonder why these people are still filming. Unfortunately one fourth of the four person cast is unforgivably obnoxious (I’ll let you decide which one I’m referring to), the high concept really is getting old (having just reviewed The Last Exorcism probably didn’t help), and I spent most of the film sitting in utter boredom. I understand that was sort of the point, and that my jaded nature makes me a less than ideal candidate, so I’m willing to let my less than constructive criticism go, since I continue to be impressed with the film’s connection with audiences, and the brilliant viral marketing campaign.

Paranormal Activity 2 is a slicker movie, with 200 times the budget (which still comes out to an extremely modest $3 million), but it’s really just more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for those that liked the first film, but it’s also kind of a waste of talent and time. Perhaps I’m just upset that I wasted my time watching the first film even after I was warned that the two films were pretty much the same thing. On the positive side just about everything here is an improvement over the original. The characters are almost instantly more likeable, and in turn believable as normal, real people (the dog in this one acts circles around the cast of the first movie). The idea of security cameras makes more sense than a constantly filming home video camera, and opens up the scope of the film, not to mention the fact that it gives the editor something more interesting to do with the footage. Besides just being better made, Paranormal Activity 2 is a more disconcerting film, with better scare set ups, and better use of slow burn tactics (though it does overstay its welcome, especially on the included director’s cut). In other words – this one kind of frightened me, at least a little bit, and a fearful response is more or less the only thing an audience is meant to get out of these films.

Paranormal Activity 2: Unrated
The ‘plots’ of both films do intertwine a bit, with this film actually taking place just before the first one for the most part. Fans that care are given a bit of back-story behind the events that unfold in that film, though it’s never really clear how events line up, and it’s pretty clear that this stuff was all thought up after the fact (which is a sort of unfair criticism, considering the fact that I doubt anyone knew there would be a sequel). More important than the relatively more developed storyline is the more impressive dialogue, which goes a long way in selling this family as more likable and believable than the couple in Paranormal Activity 1. And these people are relatably funny instead of needlessly cruel to each other. Molly Ephraim is especially funny as the teenage daughter Ali, a role that could’ve been brimming with obnoxious angst and screaming. I’ll also give the sequel the edge for including a dog, which everyone knows is a sure fire, super exploitative way to make the audience root against the ‘villain’. Well played.

Video


Paranormal Activity 2 is made to look rough, but shaky camera work can’t disguise crisp, lifelike digital HD video. Sure there are oodles of grain in the darker shots, especially those blue and green night vision shots, but that’s what happens when you make a movie to look like it was filmed without a cinematographer to create a less ‘theatrical’ experience. There are consistent digital artefacts throughout the transfer, including some smudgy edges, inconsistent focus, and different degrees of grain, but these are all part of the chosen style. Colours are natural in daylight sequences, though not particularly vibrant, and detail levels are incredibly sharp assuming the lighting is effective. The black levels are especially rich, and contrast levels are impressive and clean. This 1080p transfer is a nice experience, but readers still depending on standard definition DVDs aren’t really missing anything in this particular instance.

Paranormal Activity 2: Unrated

Audio


Like the first film, Paranormal Activity 2 utilizes a lot of dynamic range to put the audience on edge. The majority of this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track plays out in relative silence, or at the most utilizes only the most basic sound from the cameras’ microphones, including dialogue and the basic effects (props falling, crickets chirping, footsteps). The stereo and surround channels come into play with the scary scenes, which are usually signified by a general rumble emitting itself from nowhere in particular. Most of the scare tactics involve shattering the rumbling almost-silence with really loud bangs. These bangs (usually a slamming door or some kind of outside knocking) are punched up by a strong LFE presence.

Extras


The only extra feature, other than the presence of both cuts of the film, a trailer, and a DVD and digital copy, is a collection of ‘Found Footage’ (3:50, HD), which is code for deleted scenes. Well, more like one deleted scene followed by some random shots of the house.

Paranormal Activity 2: Unrated

Overall


With a third film on the way this Halloween, Paranormal Activity is quickly becoming Paramount’s answer to Lionsgate’s Saw series (which was, ironically enough, Lionsgate’s delayed answer to Paramount’s Friday the 13th series), meaning we’ll probably see one every Halloween until the series stops making fistfuls of money. I think the best option for a third film would be a mockumentary structured feature, rather than another found footage jumble. See Lake Mungo for inspiration. Fans of the series should be happy with this Blu-ray release, but the rough and raw style makes a high definition presentation somewhat unnecessary, so buying the DVD version instead doesn’t really hurt. The lack of extra features makes me think there might be another release on the horizon.

*Note: The images on the page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.


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