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Under Review: ‘Paranormal Activity 2′

— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —

Ghosts: Who’s afraid of ’em anymore? I mean, according to ancient folklore, they can be kept at bay with just a simple pinch of salt, brass bells and holy water. To me, the more rational fears are that of maniacal clowns, bees and the opening credits to “Unsolved Mysteries,” and I’m not just saying this because they terrify me to the point of tears.

Then again, Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” did become a cult-classic (and admittedly I did recommend it), so maybe I’m just underestimating the terror of demonic forces from “the other side.” However, nothing scared me more than director Tod Williams and screenwriter Michael R. Perry’s announcement that a sequel would be immanent.

The news was frightening for one simple reason: the cat was out of the bag. By the time the sequel was foretold, everyone and their mother knew that Peli’s low-tech hit was in fact, fictionalized. Let’s face it, “Paranormal Activity” was the subject of a widespread viral marketing campaign because it looked like an actual documentary, and thus people believed in the story of Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston, and when the final on-screen caption flashed before the audience’s eyes and informed them that this was all in essence, a complicated yet horrifying hoax, it was all okay because in the end, “Paranormal Activity” was immensely enjoyable. However, with everything out in the open, Williams and Perry would have to up the ante in terms of horror-tactics.

They could no longer rely on long sequences of doors opening and closing ominously, because the realism aspect of the series has long been spoiled, and unfortunately, Williams and Perry choose to rehash practically the entirety of the first and second acts from “Paranormal Activity” which leaves us with an hour of build-up, of which for most part, we’ve seen before, and 30 minutes of honest-to-good thrills, which show Perry’s screenwriting talents, as he flawlessly interconnects the two films thus building up quite the mythology.

In “Paranormal Activity 2,” we are introduced to Katie’s sister Kristi, her husband, Daniel, their teenage daughter Ali, an infant named Hunter, and a nanny named Martine. Without a doubt, Kristi is a carbon copy of Katie and Daniel serves as Micah’s cheap doppelganger, however, Ali, Hunter, and Martine are interesting additions which add critically to the film’s plotline. Williams even takes the liberty of switching points-of-view between the home’s 24-hour surveillance cameras, which are installed after a purported attempted robbery, and Ali’s handheld camcorder.

As you’ve probably guessed, pans fall and doors are slammed, in order to symbolize the return of the demonic spirit which haunted Katie in the original (“Paranormal Activity 2” is actually a prequel).

But I firmly believe that none of the aforementioned characters are actually the protagonist; in fact, I argue that it is actually the family’s dog. No, I’m not busting your chops; I’m quite serious about this. First of all, the German Sheppard shows up in almost every scene, and secondly, whenever the spirit/demon actually appears, it is the first to act righteously, selflessly, and remains valiant throughout. On top of that, it was the dog that I sympathized most with, because in actuality, none of the other characters had anything even remotely interesting to say.

However, it all pays off in the film’s third act, which single-handedly tops that of its predecessors. This act is tense, atmospheric, and most importantly, ties everything up perfectly.

“Paranormal Activity 2,” though ending on a high-note, isn’t quite worth the recommendation. The sequel, which couldn’t profit from the Machiavellian marketing schemes of Oren Peli, just doesn’t cut it.

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Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ItsJustMariusz.

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