(Paramount Pictures) “Sequelitis” is a word that gets tossed around, but anyone who's ever experienced it knows that it's a very real and deadly disease. It can kill the public's enthusiasm for a franchise and, in extreme cases, it can retroactively diminish the accomplishments of the original film(s). Some of the most famous cases include:
Exorcist II: The Heretic, a startling instance where the original Exorcist is frequently cited as one of the best films ever made, and the sequel is almost as frequently cited as one of the worst;
The Matrix: Reloaded, which took the chilling existential sci-fi of the first movie and turned it into a farcical fantasy featuring a ten-minute cave rave;
The Godfather, Part III, which made one of the most well-respected series in all of cinema seem like an accident;
Batman & Robin, which signaled that the franchise that had singlehandedly made comic book films into serious entertainment had decided to stop taking things seriously; and...
Of course, the Rosetta Stone of terrible sequels: the Star Wars prequel trilogy. This last is less of an amusing footnote and more of a horrifying cataclysm that crushed the dreams of an entire generation. It's a dire warning to filmmakers everywhere that being hailed as the greatest imaginative genius of your time doesn't mean you can't suddenly become the most hated director in the world.
Thankfully, Paranormal Activity 2 does not suffer from sequelitis. It's one of those rare sequels that feels as good as the original, takes the audience's love of the original very seriously, and gives us a story that expands the mythology and takes things in a new direction without disrespecting the source material.
Paranormal Activity was the sleeper hit of 2007. It's a subtle horror story that shuns cheap scares in favor of slowly mounting dread. It's also a classic example of a man — Oren Peli, whose new show The River debuts February 7th on ABC — who believed in his vision, shot the movie in his house on a shoestring budget, and created an incredible success that was all the more exciting for its insistence on treating its audience like intelligent people.
Paranormal Activity 2 uses the same basic formula — a family begins filming every room in their house because they think something strange is going on — and ups the stakes by adding kids in peril and a subplot about whether or not the white middle-class parents trust their Spanish-speaking housekeeper/nanny.
Without giving too much away, let's just say the housekeeper is chided and eventually fired for her superstitiousness; then, when the paranormal activity reaches a boiling point, the family brings her back in and begs desperately for her help. The film doesn't put this little drama front and center, but rather simply mentions it and lets us make of it what we will. There's no moralizing, just a statement of fact.
This is a smart move, since the people who are watching the Paranormal Activity films aren't doing so for social commentary. They're watching for a good scare, which this film certainly delivers. The night scenes of baby Hunter being stalked by an unseen presence are skin-crawlingly intense. This series really understands how to draw out a scene to the breaking point of tension and create a suffocating atmosphere from little more than a video camera and a few noises.
Ultimately, that's what makes Paranormal Activity 2 (and the original) stand out from the crowd: they take our safe spaces — our perfectly normal suburban houses, our bedrooms, our children's rooms — and transform them into cathedrals of anxiety where we see the potential for losing everything we love. There's probably an analogy to be made here about life in the age of terrorism, but this film isn't going to push that on you. It's going to settle for giving you a hellishly entertaining ride.
For Fans Of: Insidious, The Exorcist, The Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project
Why We Like It: takes its time, claustrophobic atmosphere, expands on the original