Just like the first Paranormal Activity, I watched the sequel while I was alone at night with all the lights off. This definitely helps immerse you in the experience, and you find yourself jumping at shadows and trying to see around corners in your own house while glued to your living room couch, afraid to move.
As was probably the intention of the filmmakers, the sequel is a more intense and frightening experience, with one of the best jump scares ever that made me nearly poop myself (at least if I had, I could have blamed the smell on one of my dogs while I went to change…). While the film has a really slow build, forcing us to watch about 40 minutes of footage consisting mostly of family members just sitting and watching TV, eating, or reading, with just a light going off now and then or a door slamming, it also does what The Blair Witch Project failed to do over a decade ago—throws in some simple and seamless special effects so we get to see something exciting actually happen.
The second half of the film takes off (I watched the ‘extended’ version, so it’s about 7 minutes longer than the theatrical cut). Aside from delivering more consistent frights before the final scene, it is also much more complex than the first movie in several ways. There are more people living in the house: a father and his daughter and his wife and their little baby son (little babies always make things creepier), plus a dog that, naturally, can see things humans can’t, which adds to the tension. There’s also a maid lady who doesn’t speak English, and she adds a little voodoo-esque knowledge to the situation. There are also cameras all over the house, so we get to see “footage” from numerous angles.
Seriously, I think the movie should have relied mostly on these stationary cameras. These are placed around the house for security purposes after it appears the house is ransacked in the beginning of the film. But as in all these first person POV films, there always seems to be a family member walking around with a handheld camera as well. ANNOYING and SO unrealistic. I mean, father hears his daughter shriek upstairs, and yet he lets the camera lead the way as he uses its lens as his eyes to make his way all the way up to the second floor to her bedroom to make sure she’s okay. REALLY? And not for nothing, but if half these things were going on in my house, I’d be dropping that camera every five seconds—which means, it would be broken in about 15 seconds. Not to mention, I have a handy little Flip camera, and yet every time my dogs do something adorable, I find that the dang thing is neatly tucked away in its velvety pouch in a drawer, so by the time I get it out and on, my dogs have already quit being adorable and are simply looking at me wondering why I’m frantically scrambling across the room and digging through drawers (and wondering, what does “Don’t MOVE!” mean?).
There’s even a point where the father comes in from outside and the footage is from the perspective of the daughter sitting in the kitchen. This would mean that the daughter was sitting by herself in the kitchen filming her empty living room for no reason. WTF? Then, once the daughter convinces herself they have a demon in their house, she hears a noise in the middle of the night, so she turns on the camera and uses it to make her way downstairs alone in the dark. Are you kidding me??? I would be turning on EVERY light in the house with my dog by my side, screaming for my entire family to wake up. In fact, there are way too many times the characters in this film get terrified by some serious shit and don’t just grab the baby and get the hell out! Sorry, but realistically, that’s what MOST people would do, yet there are three people in one house who instead just sit alone in a room and don’t even turn on the TV for company (and to scare away the ghosts—which is how I’ve always handled it).
Of course, as with most of these camera-eye films, you just have to let go of reality, because if they put down the camera and choose survival instead, there’d be no footage (you know, like when the guy was about to get stomped by the monster in Cloverfield, yet just stood there filming instead of RUNNING). Having said that, and with all plot holes aside (as well as the cliché of the father being the only one who refuses to believe in ghosts—why are straight guys such skeptics???), the film sets out to scare—and it does. Scenes involving the baby are eerie as hell, the subtle special effects are fantastic, and camera work and editing create an intense atmosphere. Sure the climax of the film blatantly rips off [REC]/Quarantine with terror in a blackout in a cramped space being viewed through the green night vision light on the camera, but why not? It’s so fricking effective. But the ultimate satisfaction for me personally comes from the way Paranormal Activity 2 ties in to the first film. A pretty twisted twist that leads to a deliciously satisfying ending—which is also a surefire setup for part 3. Of course, I should point out that the final message of the film seems to imply that the foreign domestic help is an immoral be-otch who helps destroy a wholesome American family…! WTF?