November 12, 2010
Paranormal Activity 2
Directed by Tod Williams
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.
You know, overall, sequels are tough things to pull off. They’re tough for audiences to like, and they’re tougher for producers to make. Now, to me there are two basic kinds of sequels; one is a continuation of a larger story arc (think Harry Potter for a current example or the Empire Strikes Back for a retro example) and the other is bringing back the elements of a successful film to try and cash in a second time. Paranormal Activity 2 (hereafter referred to as PA2) clearly falls into the latter category. The sequel brings back all the things that worked in the first film: the greenish video surveillance footage, the rumbly noise, the menacing date graphics (DAY1, etc) in heaping amounts.
Now I call PA2 a sequel, but it’s more like a prequel/sequel. It starts several months before the first film in an attempt to provide an explanation of why the first film happened and then shows us what happens after the first film ends. PA2 centers around Kristi (Sprague Grayden – most recently seen in 24) and her family. Kristi is the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston) from the first PA. Just like in the first film we see video clips of Kristie, her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) and their kids; teenager Ali (Molly Ephraim) and baby Hunter (William Juan Prieto & Jackson Xenia Prieto). After a break-in which may be ghostly or just a non-ghostly crime, the family installs surveillance cameras in every room of the house. After that, the film follows the PA playbook page by page as the creepy bits ramp up in intensity and violence. The film offers an explanation or two about why the sisters are being visited by the demonic beasties, but it mostly just runs through the series of nights leading up to its grisly conclusion. Like the first film, PA2 does have a scene with a ouija board. But this one is actually a very funny scene involving the teenage daughter and her horny boyfriend.
The acting is about what you would expect from a film like this; so-so. The exception is Molly Ephraim. Out of all the actors, she runs the most believable arc of “I’m in a horror movie” and starts believing that the titular paranormal activity is really happening after the appropriate amount of evidence is presented to her. She brings a good balance of “this is scary” and “I’m a teenager so this stuff is cool” to make her character ring true. Plus she’s a cutie.
PA2, much like PA, times out at a brisk 91 minutes. So don’t blink, ‘cause you might miss it. Overall, it’s an enjoyable 91 minutes, and given the limited subject matter, anything longer might have dragged. And if you liked the first one, PA2 is a good second helping.
GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
Obviously, this film is gonna inspire horror RPGs more than any other game. Call of Cthulhu comes to mind most. The idea of dealing with an unknown, seemingly unstoppable beastie is right up Lovecraft’s alley.
The idea that one of the players is ‘cursed’ or ‘stalked’ by the beastie definitely has possibilities for a good story. For a quick, one night adventure, something as simple as PA2 (Or PA for that matter) would work. Anything that is going to be multiple game sessions would require a bit more work developing the beastie and its motives.
The family of PA2 does make a successful research roll and come up with a possible solution to their possession. However, it’s what I would term a Faustian Solution – that is it doesn’t kill the beastie, it just sends it to someone else. So, you save your own skin, but you have to pick some other poor fool to take the fall. This idea is not new one, and it was used much more effectively in The Ring and Drag Me To Hell. In PA2, they can ‘pass’ on the curse of this particular demon, but only to another family member. Husband Daniel doesn’t hesitate to push the beastie and its supernatural baggage onto sister Katie (which is why the events of PA happen in the first place) and let her deal with it. I would have liked to see a bit more hand wringing over this potential decision, but that wouldn’t have fit in with the films lickety-split pacing.
This concept of damning others to save your own neck is role playing gold. It gives you a chance to find out how much of a ‘good’ guy your character (and by extension, you) really is. I think in tournament play, where each player is competing with each other to be the best role player, it can be even better. And in a game like Cthulhu, where character survival is usually a coin-flip anyway, so much the better.
‘Course, what do I know?