Andy Bockelman: ‘Paranormal’ sequel has same scares, less surprises

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Paranormal Activity 2'

2.5 out of 4 stars

91 minutes

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

A baby crying at 3 a.m. is normal. A baby crying at 3 a.m. because he’s being dangled in midair by an invisible spirit is something else entirely. Such is the conundrum in “Paranormal Activity 2.”

The Reys are a typical San Diego clan consisting of Kristi (Sprague Grayden), Dan (Brian Boland) and Dan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Ali (Molly Ephraim). With the arrival of baby Hunter (Jackson Xenia and William Juan Prieto), the family is complete.

Wanting to ensure his wife and children’s safety after the house is ransacked in a random burglary, Dan installs security cameras in and around the house. Not long after the technology is put in, strange but small things begin happening in the Rey home, ranging from barely audible creaks and thumps to clattering cookware.

The family’s housekeeper (Vivis Cortez) is convinced that something evil has entered the house, but Dan doesn’t believe in such superstitions. Kristi is less convinced, as the incidents bring back memories of her childhood, which she and her frequently visiting sister Katie (Katie Featherston) refuse to discuss with anyone.

As the occurrences continue and become more threatening, Ali begins to believe that the problem can be traced to Hunter’s presence in the house, with the unseen forces seeking to capture her baby brother and do worse to her stepmother.

Just as Featherston was in the first “Paranormal Activity,” Grayden is completely believable as the young woman who unwillingly serves as the epicenter of the worst torment from whatever it is that wants to destroy her family.

Ephraim also functions well as her stepdaughter, who initially welcomes contact from the other side, believing the specter to be the spirit of her late mother. But, as she looks up the subject of ghosts and further investigates Kristi and Katie’s family, even Ali has to accept that they are being haunted by a not-so-friendly ghost.

Featherston has a diminished role in the story, returning as Katie, who still has a very important part to play as we learn more about her family tree.

Horror sequels tend to work backward, explaining more and more about the monsters, killers, etc. that audiences have come to love. There’s no difference here, with a story that takes place before and after the events of the first film, as Ali uncovers the disturbing truths that — partially — explain why she’s suddenly living in the movie “Poltergeist.”

Director Tod Williams takes over from Oren Peli with nary a hiccup in recreating the same kind of spooky chills, whether it’s the growling of the family German shepherd or the odd behavior of the automatic swimming pool cleaner in the backyard. Yet, even with the added tension of involving an infant into the mix, the new movie feels more like a carbon copy than a feature that can stand on its own.

Knowing that a full-fledged franchise is undoubtedly around the corner also tarnishes the simple pleasures of terror that the first movie offered.

The upside of “Paranormal Activity 2” is that it’s exactly as scary as its predecessor. The downside is that does little more than mimic the action of the first.

Come on — if you’ve seen one weird Ouija board scene, you’ve seen them all.

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