PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 - (Rated R for some profanity, brief & violent action): Two earlier pseudo-docs ("Blair Witch" & "Paranormal Activity 1") that cost next to nothing to make, but took in heaps at the box office, prompted the making of this, a kind of prequel to "Paranormal Activity 1." And it's tops at the box office as well.
This time the home is in the suburbs of Carlsbad, California - more spacious, more upscale fancy with wide open spaces for things to hide, a grand staircase, and outside a large curving pool; and instead of just a boy/girl involvement we have a typical upscale family including , a dog, a teenage girl and her 3 year old brother.
The format is similar to the original except that it begins with the home being totally trashed, but nothing taken. A set of surveillance cameras are set up to cover every room in the house and the pool (with its bottom-trawling mechanical cleaner that sets off the first of a series of recorded incidents by crawling at night to the pool's edge & with unaccountable volition leaps up onto the terraced floor. Odd, but the family dismisses it as just-one-of-those-harmless freakish things. Their first error.
Soon things begin to go hum, rumble, slam & bump in the night. The cameras record (normal light by day, blue & grainy at night) each room 24/7 without serious incident until the 10th night when a faint ominous rumbling at low volume suggests - what? At first, nothing. Then an occasional crash or loud thump. Then closet doors start banging, a kitchen pan becomes airborne while other hanging things spin around. By the 13th night the baby is found floating out of his crib & walking the floor on his own. The police dog barks at some unknown thing, then is bashed - the first fatality.
Checking the videos it is learned that such things could happen anytime day or night, but mostly when no one or just one person happened to be present. The daughter slips into the garden to find out why the front door had banged open & shut, when the door slams behind her, locking her out.
By now all are hysterical, but they stand their ground & refuse to vacate. That's when the violence really revs up.
According to director Tod Williams in an interview, absolutely no script was used; the characters meandered haphazardly . "We leapt into this thing not really knowing which way we were going to go. Didn't even know when or how we would end." (Aha! That accounts for the disturbingly abrupt ending that offers no closing explanation whatever.) He also seemed loathe to direct the cast at all, as they ad-libbed to one another with the use of a home-owned, hand-shaky video camera -the dialog far from inspired: " Uh, um, well, what do you think? I mean, well, you know, I thinkŠ"
Curiously, credits for a script went to three people including Oren Pell, responsible for the original "Paranormal Activities 1." A contradiction here?
The overall effect? Like the original, plenty of built-up suspense generated by the noises, heightened by having to stare at an empty set for great lengths of time before the sounds would sneak in - giving us plenty of time to roam the set, picking up on details that might be important, from a change of things on the couch to what might be lurking in dark corners. Plenty of hair-raising moments, not only because of the mysterious noises (which grew louder & more frequent as the film progressed), but because they could not be identified.
The movies with things that go bump in the night are legion; the gimmic k in this one, that the total story is never told, has a certain novelty to it that, with just one more will lose as old hat. It was not a boring 89-minutes, but what bothered me - aside from the many puzzling comments from the director which conflicted with the closing credits and which, in a sense, said, "Ha ha, we fooled you, didn't we!" I felt cheated for having been duped. Other production problems include results from the set cameras being obviously edited, with frequent jump cuts to eliminate overly long uneventful bits . The characters reacted appropriately during the scary moments; otherwise they were quite awkward, even clumsy, in their improv moments.
The movie won't win over anyone who wasn't won over by the original; this is merely more-of-the-same, only better budgeted, more expansive, more professionally created. (Grade: B-)