It doesn’t. It doesn’t dull it one bit. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is not only as creepy and effective as Oren Peli’s original film, but it bests the film in almost every regard. As well a sequel should.
That’s why it’s such a surprise how rock solid the film actually is. Visually, it’s not very hard to emulate what made the original film such a scary experience, but it is a difficult task to not merely raise the bar in the fright department. A good sequel needs to both explore and elevate the material the first film introduced, and that is exactly what Tod Williams’ film does. I won’t say how it does so for risk of spoilers, but I will say that the transition between the two films is inspired and graceful and that if you’ve somehow escaped seeing Peli’s experiment thus far, you’re going to want to see it before you see this one.
If you did see Peli’s film and hated it, you’re still going to want to see this one. Chances are the problems you had with the first film have been massaged out of this one. The family being bothered by bumps in the night and the inexplicable movement of household goods aren’t nearly as annoying as Katie and Micah. There is a healthy dynamic going on between all involved and the evolution of their haunting and the story behind it is so satisfying that it borders on bliss.
Yes, I just said that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 borders on bliss. I’m not crazy, I assure you. It’s simply a wholly satisfying experience. It’s got scares and levity in perfect equilibrium, but the most commendable thing about Williams’ film, and particularly Michael R. Perry’s script, is its ability to function like a normal horror movie even within its abnormal format. (Though, of course, found footage is common enough now that it’s not exactly abnormal anymore.) It builds anticipation by establishing areas of threat. It’s got structure and payoff, which is arguably what the first film struggled with the most.
Of course, there are still plenty of jolts that come by way of sudden, loud banging, but beyond those “Gotchya!” winks at the audience, there are sneaky calculations being made off screen. It may feel like you’re watching the freakiest episode of BIG BROTHER ever since the pacing can be a bit unrewarding early on; you may even roll your eyes at how obvious the film appears to be by first embracing the sequel format and secondly embracing the audience’s expectations. Those kind of reactions are just symptomatic of the first half of the film, which certainly does start off broad so as to not isolate its target demographic by being too different from the first film. Once all of the elements start their slide toward inevitable doom, there’s no more eye rolling. You might even applaud the film at certain turns. I know I did.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is the best possible scenario that could have come from a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel. It piggybacks off of the first film when it needs to, but it is by no means resigned to just passively bask in the success and name recognition. It’s got something to prove– it needs to be a haunted house attraction that’s thrilling entirely in its own right, and it goes after that goal with a persistence that I can’t help but admire. I also can’t help but admire how much this movie absolutely dominates the audience. It has the entire theater laughing, jumping, cowering, waiting with baited breath whenever it wants to. There’s not a single gag in the movie that misses its mark, which is reason enough to be impressed.
Will it revolutionize horror movies or change anyone’s definitions of what makes for terrifying filmmaking? No, not even close. But it’s also not trying to do that. All PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 is trying to do is deliver the haunted house experience from inside a movie theater whilst also establishing itself as a competent, new film franchise unlike others on the market that both services the fans and the craft of making a good horror movie. It’s an uphill battle, but it wins on all fronts.