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'Paranormal Activity 2' scares audiences as much as the original did

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Paranormal Activity 2

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We had every reason to expect the sequel to the surprise hit "Paranormal Activity" to be horrid. Movies like that come out of nowhere and make more money than anyone could have ever expected so a sequel has to follow, right? God forbid the money train stops at just one movie! Even in the new millennium, greed is still king. Most people were expecting this to be as terrible as "The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows" which itself was a giant insult to its predecessor, hence giving more fuel to the “Blair Witch” haters who somehow felt they were tricked out of their money. Besides how can you expect a story like this to remain fresh let alone terrifying? We weren't expecting what got hurled at us last time (literally and figuratively speaking), but now we feel more prepared to scan every scene of this movie so that we can predict when the scares come.

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Well it is to my astonishment that I report that "Paranormal Activity 2" is no "Blair Witch 2." Heck, it's not even an "Open Water 2" or a "Jaws 2" or an "Exorcist 2" for that matter. This sequel turns out to be just as scary and unnerving as the original, and it respects the Oren Peli's film for what it was and does nothing to detract from it. In fact, this sequel adds additional layers to the original which enhances the experience of watching it all the more.

"Paranormal Activity 2" opens up in Carlsbad, California where we meet Dan and his second wife Kristin as they arrive home with their newborn son, Hunter. Once they arrive there, we also get to meet Ali, Dan's daughter from another marriage, the family housekeeper and nanny Martine, and the loyal family dog Abby. A couple of days later after going out of town, they come back to the house to find it ransacked and burglarized, but surprisingly nothing has been stolen. As a result, Dan has security cameras installed all over the house to make his family feel safe, and maybe even catch whoever did this. After that, things start getting scary as that ominous hum that haunted Katie’s and Micah’s abode starts to show its presence in the family dwellings, and things start to go bump in the night. Just like the original, the men never take the women or their fears seriously, and that just makes the rest of us guys look like bad boyfriends and husbands.

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat return from the first movie, but Katie is the one who is more prominently featured. It turns out that Kristin is Katie’s sister and they both shared a scary past when they thought they were being terrorized by an evil spirit. Both are loathe to explain what they went through as children because the thought of it coming back is too terrifying to even think about.

Now the really clever thing about "Paranormal Activity 2" is that it turns out to be a prequel as well as a sequel. The story actually takes place several weeks before the events portrayed in the original, and the ending more or less coincides with what Katie and Micah went through. This I thought was an inspired decision because it gives more weight to the story of not just this film, but the original as well. This is not just some dumb follow up with the same old story filled with unrelated characters making the same stupid mistakes. The fate of this family is very much interlocked with the fate of Katie and Micah, and their inevitable doom makes this sequel all the more haunting.

Now whereas "Paranormal Activity" had just the one camera which Micah had situated in his and Katie's bedroom for the most part, this second film has us looking through a number of security cameras which record the house from different angles, each revealing small little things that haunt the house mercilessly. Then there are other scenes where one of more characters are holding the camera and making us see everything they see as they search through the house late at night. The security cameras by themselves present freaky enough images to gives us goose pimples, but when we have the first person perspective, things get even more intense than they already are.

You know what really gets to me about these movies? The silence around the house and the lack of a film score. For me, being alone in a room or a house without any noise gets my anxiety running and has me on edge as I suspect something bad is about to occur, and I won't be able to prevent it from happening. Both "Paranormal Activity" movies understand this anxiety perfectly and play on it to the max without a reliance on blood and gore. Plus, your home is where you and your family are supposed to feel the safest. Now what happens when the safety of your home is completely violated? Where can you feel safe after that?

The choice of director for "Paranormal Activity 2" is actual a surprise and not who you might expect. Tod Williams is best known for directing "The Door In The Floor," a criminally under seen drama with powerfully stinging performances by Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger. How the producers thought of Tod for this film is beyond me, but he gives this sequel a strong suspenseful tone that keeps the tension at a high pitch throughout. Tod also gives us a couple of excellent jump out of your seat moments that will make your hair stand on end, especially the one in the kitchen (trust me, you'll know it when you see it).

As for the acting, it's all good. The performances are nothing spectacular, but that’s perfect for a film like this. I also have to give special props to Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat who still succeed in acting ever so naturally in front of the camera. After the first film, you'd think they would have a tougher time with that and be even more self-conscious than they were before. But they both act normal as if the first movie never happened which I found very impressive.

I'm not sure I can go on describing "Paranormal Activity 2" for fear of giving away too much. I was pleasantly (in a manner of speaking) surprised at how effective this sequel was because this could have been nothing more than a scam to produce a bigger profit than what came before. The surprise of the original is gone and there's not much new brought to the material here. This one also has end credits which the original did not, although there is an elongated pause for those who want to escape the theater before they come up. But the premise is still very scary at least for those who were terrified by the first film. I left the theater with my nerves jangling, feeling very much like I did when I saw the original. This could have been a big joke, but a good deal of care was put into making this work because so many people were prepared to tear it apart even before they saw it.

If you liked the first "Paranormal Activity," I think you'll like the sequel. For those of you who didn't like it and can't understand what the fuss was all about, don't even bother.

I am proud to say that I didn't make the same mistake of watching it before I went to bed like I did with the original (man that was dumb!). I saw it in the early afternoon when the sun was still out. It still freaked me out though. Getting to sleep that evening was not any easier.

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