MANY HORROR MOVIES play upon the anxiety of being a parent: Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Shining, hell, even Ghostbusters II all needle the insecurities we hold about our children. And that's the ace up the sleeve of Paranormal Activity 2, a prequel that manages to prod deeper than the original.
The dark forces in Paranormal Activity 2 use a lot of familiar tricks, seen through the home videos and security tapes of a posh LA family (Brian Boland, Sprague Grayden, and Molly Ephraim) who begin documenting their life starting with the arrival of a new baby boy. For a long, slow while, the spirit present acts less like a demon than a shitty roommate—from forgetting to put the pool cleaner back to playing with loud toys in the middle of the night to leaving a gigantic dump in the toilet, this spirit is really inconsiderate. But as the ghost's motives become clear, the film grows exponentially scarier: This apparition wants a baby something serious, and it isn't going to go through any of the usual adoption channels, thankyouverymuch.
Writer Michael R. Perry does a finer job of making the haunted family likeable than PA's creator Oren Peli did in the original. The stakes are higher and the results more shattering with a baby at risk and characters worth caring about (plus a German Shepherd, animal lovers).
Grayden and Boland's nouveau riche comfort is effectively goosed, as well. As they steadily lose control of their Hollywood Hills McMansion, the luxury items it's filled with become comically impotent, turning into little more than tools ghosts can use to fuck with them. Where Peli used long shots of people sleeping to build suspense, here director Tod Williams repeatedly retreats to night footage of ornate rooms and a self-cleaning swimming pool. Williams' movie is about undercutting our illusions of control over the people we look after and the spaces we occupy. True, it's ultimately just a horror movie with gotcha scares—but on the upside, there's some pretty interesting subtext, and if nothing else, it's the most unnerving film about a pooping ghost I've ever seen.