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MOVIE REVIEW

Paranormal Activity 2

‘Paranormal’ sequel has familiar focus

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / October 23, 2010

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“Paranormal Activity 2’’ has to hold some kind of a record: It’s a sequel, a prequel, and a remake all in one. The movie follows 2009’s “Paranormal Activity,’’ the bloodless no-budget ghost story that grossed more than $100 million, but the plot of “2’’ leads up to and over-explains the events of the first film. The producers being no fools, the new movie’s also a virtual carbon copy of the original in structure, feel, and carefully doled-out camcorder jolts.

Again there’s a generic suburban home with generic suburban people living in it: Married Dan (Brian Boland) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden), Dan’s teenage daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and the couple’s 1-year-old son, Hunter. Kristi turns out to be the sister of the first film’s Katie (Katie Featherston), not yet in possession of the technology that will destroy her life.

Again, the gimmick is that everything we see comes from a “real’’ video source, primarily the home surveillance cameras that Dan installs around the house after things start getting weird. (The comparatively upscale visuals must be where the sequel’s $2.7 million budget went. That and the catering.)

And again things go bump and eventually yarrrragghhh in the night. The basic notions that made “Paranormal Activity’’ work remain solid: that we’re all spooked by midnight noises, that our need to record every aspect of our lives means we may see things we’re not meant to, and that there’s nothing scarier than a baby being silently dragged across his crib by an invisible demon at 3 in the morning.

Yet predictability has set in, too. The visual grammar of the scenes is unvarying: a wide shot of banal domestic non-action, pause, pause, and then BOO. Rinse, repeat. Only a few sequences stick to the ribs, one involving kitchen cupboards, the other an extremely reluctant trip by Kristi to the basement.

“Paranormal Activity 2’’ cooks along eerily enough until the screenplay starts giving us background information and character motivation and other things a campfire horror tale doesn’t need. But campfire tales aren’t interested in establishing a franchise, and “P.A. 2’’ labors mightily in that direction.

One serious drawback to a movie so reliant on silence: It gives an opening to every self-styled comedian in the audience to talk back to the screen. There’s one in every crowd; the night I saw “Paranormal Activity 2,’’ there were at least three, each a legend in his own mind and a pox upon his neighbors. But maybe that’s how the new rules of entertainment work: Fake reality’s up on the screen; the real show’s down in the seats.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

Directed by: Tod Williams

Written by: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst, based on characters created by Oren Peli

Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 91 minutes

Rated: R (some language and brief violent material)

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