Paranormal Activity 2 * 1/2

Genre: Horror

Director: Tod Williams

Writer: Michael R. Perry

Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ehpraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Running Length: 91 minutes

Synopsis: Events in Paranormal Activity 2 take place between one and two months before those that were featured in Paranormal Activity. Instead of a couple, the cast has expanded to include a whole family. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is the sister of Katie (Katie Featherstone, of the first film), and is married to Dan (Brian Boland), his second marriage after the death of his wife. Dan has a teenage daughter Ali (Molly Ehpraim), and the couple has a new baby boy, Hunter. However, things start to go bump in the night when Hunter turns one…

Review: The phenomenal box office success of the first Paranormal Activity all but assured the birth of this sequel (it’s actually both a prequel AND a sequel), but the important question is – apart from a money grab, was there any other compelling reason Paranormal Activity 2 should be made? The answer is no, and it’s quite clear as this film unfolds.

Audiences who have watched the first movie already know how this second movie is going to develop, and thus the creepiness of the first film is almost entirely obliterated. Whilst Paranormal Activity 2 has a good number of cheap “boo!” scares, it never feels as spontaneous as its predecessor. Put in another way, this movie is almost spiritually (pun not intended) identical to the first film, which is not a good thing if the only way the movie can scare its audience is by catching them off guard.

With Paranormal Activity 2, the decision was made to integrate footage from a number of fixed CCTV cameras. This reduces the contrived nature of the first film where the leads seem to be carrying their camera everywhere they went, but this artifice does not go away completely. There are still a handful of scenes which require a great suspension of disbelief: why would anyone not in a reality TV show bring along a camera wherever they went? How does a teenage girl manage to do her online research so well that she could pinpoint exactly what’s wrong in the house, and yet not manage to convince anyone in her family to get out of the house right away?

Credit should be given where it’s due, however, and at least the producers and writers (the director of the first Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, takes a back seat and is merely credited as a writer on the second film) made an effort to integrate the events into the chronology of the first film’s events. This also allows the two leads in Paranormal Activity to return as supporting characters, and also sets in place, unsurprisingly, the possibility of a third movie.

Is Paranormal Activity 2 a true horror movie? I would have to say “not really” – much as there are many shocking moments, truly scary scenes are virtually nonexistent. The audience is fully prepared to be shocked, and there just isn’t anything new enough to pull the rug out from beneath the audience’s feet. The movie never fills one with dread, and the entire atmosphere feels watered down from the first film. It’s difficult to say if the Paranormal Activity movies can become a franchise since it’s essentially a one-trick pony, but with its first weekend box office in the USA being a runaway success, Paranormal Activity 3 is surely not far behind. Taken on its own, Paranormal Activity 2 still entertains, but as a horror film it’s a decidedly middling one. 

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)


The Town * * * 1/2

Genre: Drama / Thriller

Director: Ben Affleck

Writers: Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: The film is set in Charlestown, Boston which apparently is the “bank robbery capital of North America”, and said “trade” is passed down from generation to generation like a family business. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is from one such family, and his father Stephen (Chris Cooper) is currently serving a life sentence in prison for murders associated with a robbery that went wrong. Doug himself runs a crew, which includes his best friends – James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke). Doug is the brains of the operation whilst Coughlin is the unpredictable, violent one. In their latest heist, Coughlin takes the bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, but is subsequently released, having never seen the robbers’ faces. However, when Doug tracks her down to ascertain that she can’t offer any helpful information to the police, he finds himself becoming attracted to her. In the mean time, the FBI is hot on the trail of the robbers, led by special agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). Frawley doesn’t have enough evidence to land a conviction yet, but he is determined to put a stop to the robbers’ crime spree, preferably by catching them red handed.

Review: The trailers for The Town may have been somewhat misleading – they give the impression that this is heist film that is filled with action sequences, but in reality The Town is more a character drama with some well-placed and effectively executed action set pieces. This is a handsome, atmospheric movie filled to the brim with great acting from the ensemble cast, and a storyline that will keep most audiences engrossed throughout its two-hour running time.

Ben Affleck deserves major kudos, his sophomore directorial effort being almost as well done as his first (Gone Baby Gone). As a director, he has managed to capture the nuances of every major character in the film, and it’s truly a pleasure to observe action set pieces filmed with a steady hand, without the usual (nowadays) quick cuts and rapid edits that has plagued many an action film in recent years.

In front of the camera, Affleck also manages to acquit himself very well. His measured performance, whilst not the strongest in the film (that credit would have to be given to Jeremy Renner’s ferocious performance), makes Doug MacRay a character that audiences will have no trouble vesting their interest in. What’s probably even more surprising is that the romance between Doug and Claire is very believable, when this aspect of a heist movie is usually its weakest link.

What is the film’s weak link, unfortunately, is the climactic heist, which really is a little too preposterous for its own good. Also, for a film that seems intent to keep the volume dial down, the overreliance on firepower in this last sequence feels just a little out of place. There’s no denying, however, that this is a solidly entertaining dramatic thriller, and it proves that Ben Affleck isn’t a flash in the pan when it comes to his directorial skills.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)


Buried * * * *

Genre: Thriller

Director: Rodrigo Cortes

Writer: Chris Sparling

Cast: Ryan Reynolds

Running Length: 94 minutes

Synopsis: Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is an American working in Iraq as a non-military truck driver. Unfortunately, his convoy comes under attack and he blacks out; when he comes to, Paul discovers that he is buried alive in a wooden coffin. Fortunately, Paul discovers that he has, amongst other items, a lighter, a pencil, and a working mobile phone with half its battery life and a weak reception. Using the mobile phone, Paul desperately tries to make connections with anyone that can help him out of his predicament, but not everyone he manages to contact with the phone have his best interests at heart…

Review: It is perhaps not surprising that this movie, though starring Ryan Reynolds, was birthed not in the USA but in Spain. Very few movies made in the USA would have the audacity to try to accomplish what Rodrigo Cortes has tried to do here, but what’s even more impressive is that it works. Buried is not an easy film to watch, and it might not be even considered an entertaining film, but it manages to present its single-minded proposition with such clarity and purpose that it is impossible not to feel impressed. Rodrigo Cortes has done an amazing job (although I question his choice of denouement), and Ryan Reynolds manages to put forth what is probably his best performance to date.

Unlike most movies founded on similar “locked room” concepts (Devil is a recent example), Buried never shifts its focus from the coffin and devotes the full 94-minute running time to Ryan Reynolds and the box he is trapped in. There are no flashbacks to fill out the story, no other peripheral characters on screen (although a fair number of characters are heard via Paul’s many phone conversations), and perhaps most surprisingly, no situations that don’t work in the film’s internal logic. The film’s plot feels watertight even after the credits roll, which is quite a rare occurrence these days.

Rodrigo Cortes manages to avoid visual monotony by offering up a surprising number of camera angles and introducing new plot elements just when the film seems to settle into a comfortable (relatively) groove. This creates an excellent atmosphere for the film, and the pacing is spot on, relentlessly piling on the sense of dread, never letting up till the very end.

Ryan Reynolds is perhaps better known for his pretty boy looks and his excellent physique, but in Buried he actually puts forth a very strong performance. This being literally a one-man show, Reynolds carries the entire weight of the movie on his shoulders and yet manages to do so with great aplomb. This is not an easy role – he is confined to a small space and yet has to portray a wide gamut of emotions, ranging from fear to anger to resignation. And because Reynolds’ portrayal is so believable, it is very easy to identify with and have a vested interest in his character’s fate. 

Buried is a very intense cinematic experience which honestly isn’t for everyone – if you’re looking for the typical action thriller movie then this would not fit neatly into the mould. However, if you are willing to give the movie a chance, this could possibly be one of the best movies you’ll see this year. Even if you don’t agree, be assured that this will not be a movie that you will forget anytime soon, and in a sea of same-old, me-too movies, that in itself is a quality that’s increasingly hard to find in the theatres nowadays.

Rating:  * * * * (out of four stars)