Fans of genuinely scary films—skin-crawlers that earn their chills by subtlety and suspense—will welcome "Paranormal Activity 2" (Paramount), director Tod Williams' follow-up to a refreshingly unbloody original.
And the news gets even better, since his efficiently unnerving extension of the franchise that began with 2009's "Paranormal Activity" not only avoids gratuitous gore, as did its predecessor, but also tones down the original's excess of sexual themes and vulgar language.
In part that's because the focus here is on a more-or-less traditional family, as opposed to the cohabiting yuppies at the center of the first story.
Said clan includes widower Daniel (Brian Boland) and his second wife, Kristi (Sprague Grayden) -- sister, as it turns out, to Katie (Katie Featherston), the female half of the shacked-up couple in the last outing. The others are Daniel's teen daughter by his previous marriage, Ali (Molly Ephraim), and the latest addition, 1-year-old son Hunter. Together they share a large home and a prosperous lifestyle in Carlsbad, Calif.
After a destructive incident Daniel and Kristi take for a break-in by vandals, they summon a home security team who installs the half-dozen cameras through which—along with Dad's handheld device—we witness the untoward events that follow. Tension builds as the silent, empty rooms on which these lenses are fixed suddenly come alive with things that go bump in the night.
Skeptical Daniel insists there's a natural explanation for everything. But Ali trolls the Internet for occult explanations, and gradually becomes convinced that—because of the sins of a previous generation of Kristi's lineage—a demon has malignant designs on poor little Hunter.
Their Hispanic housekeeper, Martina (the singly monikered Vivis)—bless her ethnic, presumably Catholic soul—is way ahead of her secular-minded employers on the evil spirits front. She resorts to a mix of ostensibly Christian and blatantly pagan means in her efforts to expel them. But the use of Christian symbols—a wooden cross coated in olive oil, for instance—is strictly of the "Take that, Dracula!" variety.
More troubling is the climactic bargain Daniel enters into that eventually buys the household a little peace, but only at the cost of knowingly victimizing someone else. But, since this ill-advised deal serves both to reconnect the plot to the related travails of Katie and her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), and to set up a third installment, to say more would be a spoiler.
The film contains occasional intense but stylized violence, a few uses of profanity, some rough and crude language and a handful of mild sexual references. The Catholic News Service Classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.