"Paranormal Activity 2" director Tod Williams doesn't follow in the footsteps of horror greats John Carpenter, Dario Argento, or George Romero. Instead he takes his plays from the book of his predecessor in the series, Oren Peli. But even with the bar set so low, fake documentary "Paranormal Activity 2" feels more like a direct-to-DVD knockoff from The Asylum instead of a proper sequel to the indie hit.
After directing "The Door in the Floor" and "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole," Williams is an unexpected choice. His film follows the original formula with a nunlike faith, channeling "Paranormal Activity" in every way, except that it can't replicate the waves of dread that made the original so effective (at least for those of us raised to believe in evil and demons and crap like that) and made Paramount so much money. A suburban home — this time one populated by a couple, a teenage daughter, and a toddler — is plagued by an unseen spirit. Some of the family members — Mom and stepdaughter — are quick to blame the supernatural, while Dad thinks more plausible causes are to blame.
We're treated to scenes of familial happiness at the beginning, but the action really starts once the family comes home to find it has been torn apart. Burglars, says Dad (despite the lack of theft), and he immediately has the house outfitted with half a dozen cameras. But lest we get tired of fixed angles, the teenage daughter begins recording her worries with a handheld camera in an effort to prove to her father that her fears are real.
The supernatural mischief begins to escalate, tracing the same pattern as the first film. At first, the family (and audience) feels safe in daylight and breaths are held only at night. The audience is treated to a (kiddie) coaster ride of terror, where their anxiety peaks and dips with a predictable rhythm. Inevitably, things get worse and there are few breaks from what is supposed to be suspense. Smartly (and cheaply), "Paranormal Activity 2" shows even less of the demon than its predecessor, and the power of the unseen creature approaches chilling in one particular scene (though it seems far more threatening and manipulative to endanger a toddler than the first film's cleavage-baring victim).
The connection to the first film is fun, though it tests logic in ways that only a sequel planned after the success of the original can; the acting and script could elicit some ghostly groans from the audience. For the wimpy, it's relatively effective as a horror film: there are a couple of genuine jump moments that make otherwise domestic scenes veer toward the freaky, but anyone can make your heart race by slamming a door. The fake documentary feels exactly like what it is, as though we're dumb enough to buy the prelude that has Paramount thanking the families and a postscript that tells us what *really* happened to the family members.
Like the original, "Paranormal Activity 2" remains devoted to its supposed origins as found footage when it comes to a score. There's no music, and the only soundtrack is eerie creaks, loud thumps, and alternating giggles and screams from the audience (with more of the former). If you're easily frightened (like this critic), the last film terrified you for most of its run time, then left you with a lingering sense of dread that makes you glad to have roommates waiting for you at home. But despite its attempts to recreate "Paranormal Activity" frame by frame, "Paranormal Activity 2" never achieves the original's unsettling mood. Even without knowing what's coming, we know what's coming. The franchise appears to be a one-trick pony that's now only good for the glue factory. [C]