Warning: the following musing will contain minor spoilers for Paranormal Activity 2. Mind you, they are minor, and it may not spoil too much, but this warning is here just in case.
So for those of you that saw Paranormal Activity 2, you have a horror sequel that's more intelligent than your average horror sequel. In the shortest sense possible, it relies more on the formula set by the original movie than most other horror sequels would think to rely on. So there's that element that helps the horror out, as well as some really well-paced story.
But perhaps the strongest tool of any horror film is its ability to get us to sympathize with the people that are being given hell. We hardly care about what's going on to a person unless we can understand and sympathize with their struggles. We want people to persevere in a horror story, and if we come to dislike the characters it's the worst sin you can perpetrate to a horror victim since we son't care for them the way we should; instead of cheering them on, we hope for whatever evil is plagueing them to kill them off finally. Ask the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street; we couldn't be bothered enough to care about the people there to want to sympathize with their struggle.
This is something that Paranormal Activity 2 does fairly well, given its set-up as an average family being subjected to not-so-average things, and all being terrified of it.
But in my case, it went a little farther than the film makers intended, I believe. Why?
That could practically have been my family in that house.
To be perfectly honest, my own family is so similar to the family in Paranormal Activity 2 that part of that fear transfered into "this could happen to me". It wasn't as distracting as you'd think, to be perfectly honest. In fact, it was the similarities between the PA2 family and my own that really began to eat away at me.
I can see my family's Nicaraguan housekeeper in Martine, even if my family's housekeeper probably never will be as superstitious as Martine is. I can see traces of little Hunter in my younger brother Augie: about 18 years separate the two of them, but given his mental disability he still needs people to look after him. My older sister is visible in Ali, along with being a fairly big social butterfly to match. My dad is a hard-ass much like Dan, and I couldn't help but feel a major similarity between Dan's assertions that nothing out of the ordinary was going on and my own fathers' attitude towards people telling him his faults. And my mom is very similar to Kristi, even if she's still my dad's only wife and she doesn't have any sisters like Katie. Hell, we even have the loveable dog to match! The only thing missing from this to be a near-perfect microcosm of my family would be myself.
And somehow, this made me relate to the whole movie on a completely different level. I facepalmed a little at Dan's assertions that nothing was out of the ordinary, mostly because it mirrored my own father's behavior when we try to bring up his own faults to him. I felt very sorry for Martine when she gets fired about ten minutes into the film, mostly because it mirrors my own fear of the housekeeper who's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember being suddenly fired and forced to go away. My fear of Kristi when the shit really hit the fan mirrored Ali's fear because I know for a fact I would be terrified if my mother was in a catatonic state. And the climax scared me a lot in relation to little Hunter because I could practically see my own brother being in that situation where he doesn't know what the hell is going on around him.
Ultimately, it ties into one of those musts of horror; the audience must be able to relate to the protagonists somehow. If it doesn't, the movie has no chance in hell of being even remotely good. On what level the audience relates to the protagonists is left up to the film makers, but my experience with PA2 says that sometimes it can run deeper than 'this is their motivation, now watch shit happen around them'. I hope that horror directors in the near future would keep this in mind, and I hope they actively try to find different ways to get the audience to relate to the victims.
This is Herr Wozzeck Muses. I'll see you guys next time.