22 October, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

How does a movie cause a grown man to be scared to go to bed at night? Do you know how, when you climb into bed, your mind starts reviewing the things you've seen and done and said throughout the day, as you begin to drift off to sleep? And do you know, the way that a nightmare makes you feel? When you wake up from it, and your skin is tingling, and you're sweating, and you turn the light on just to push away the darkness? And you try extra hard not to think about what happened in your nightmare, because the mere thought of it gets you frightened, and you know, that if you don't push it out of your mind, the second you close your eyes, it'll come back, and you won't be able to get back to a peaceful sleep?

Now imagine a movie that makes you feel the way a nightmare makes you feel. It gets you frightened and all tingly. And then think about trying to go to bed after watching that movie. Your thoughts keep straying unavoidably toward the movie, and each time you think about it, you get scared all over again. The only way to sleep like this is to try your hardest to push those thoughts out of your mind, long enough to slip into a hopefully dreamless and restful sleep. Hopefully.

Paranormal Activity 2 follows the same basic formula as the first one. This is a good thing insofar as the first one's formula was a success (I mean at being scary, not at making money, regardless of whether or not that is also true), so it's basically taking a winning formula and using it again. The potential drawback is that the movie may become overly repetitive and predictable. The predictability didn't bother me much, seeing as, even if you know the direction it's headed, you still can't know exactly what's going to happen when; and the repetitiveness didn't bother me either, as I felt they added enough new elements to this film to make it a novel experience in comparison to the first.

One of those is the cast. In the first movie, you had a lonely couple struggling with their ghost problems. In this one, you have a whole family - mom, dad, vulnerable toddler, loyal watchdog, and, my favorite, cute teenage daughter. You might think more people means less scary, but that didn't really turn out to be the case. We also get, in addition to the handheld camera POV we had in the first movie, a whole security system set up inside the house, with multiple stationary views of the house, with night vision, allowing for more consistent coverage of the hauntings.

And another thing, I felt that they successfully upped the ante in terms of the hauntings in this movie, which is exactly what I would expect from a sequel. It's hard to talk about the scares without spoiling the surprise, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, you might not want to read the next few sentences. The whole pool cleaner thing was far more funny than scary, but it was clearly intended to be that way, and the humor enhanced the audience's sympathy for the characters, I think. My favorite specific haunting is probably when the cupboards shoot open. I felt that was very creepy/effective. But I really can't say anything bad about any of the scares. I felt satisfied by the climax, which, as frightening as the first movie's was, this one was even more chaotic and exciting.

One of the other interesting aspects of this movie is that it manages to be as much a prequel to the first one as a sequel. Most of the action in the movie occurs before the setting of the previous installment, and the plot fleshes out much of what happened in that one, giving it more perspective, and answering some questions. Yet, the movie experience itself, the way that it expands on the first, feels very much like a sequel, so I think it's interesting that the movie manages to be both sequel and prequel simultaneously. And without spoiling too much, the ending very obviously leaves room for a third installment.

I had an observation while watching this movie, which is worthy of mentioning. We go to a movie like this to be scared - essentially for the purpose of entertainment. Of course, if we sympathize with the characters, the idea of being taunted and terrorized by a ghost or demonic spirit is sick and sadistic, and our natural feeling is to say, "stop, why are you doing this?" And you start to think, what is it like from the demon's perspective? Is he scaring these people just for his own amusement? And then you realize, we're sitting here watching this movie, and scared as we are, in the backs of our minds, we're secretly thinking, "I hope the demon does something horrible", because we know it will make for a great scare, and will thus greatly entertain us. And so, it seems, we are participating in the torture, we are, in effect, allying with the demon's sadistic games, and while simultaneously fearing for the characters we want to continue watching their torture...

Paranormal Activity 2 was a great film. I think it was even better than the first, and it's fully possible that it was even scarier (to me) than the first. That's a hard thing to gauge, because fear is subjective, but there's no question that it was at least as scary as the first. I'm excited to be able to say that I went and saw it at its opening midnight showing - and I survived my first night after viewing it! No nightmares so far, but I had to go to sleep with the light on and the radio playing.

It was fun watching the movie last night with a packed audience. As is always the case, sometimes they'll react in certain ways or at certain times that interfere with the flow of the film as you're perceiving it, but it was a mostly constructive atmosphere, in which they laughed at the jokes and jumped at the scares - and it's always fun to experience that type of communal atmosphere, when you can tell that other people are enjoying the movie, too. I think there were actually some girls crying, and possibly somebody who had to run out in the middle of the show (can't say for sure it was due to fear, but one can speculate). I myself felt the tears streaming down my cheek at one point. I wasn't crying out loud, but just the intenseness of the fear was permeating my body, causing me to have that kind of a reaction. Terrifying. Awesome. I'd like to see a third installment in this series, but the bar is set high. I can imagine some angles that would work, though. I guess only time will tell.

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