The recession has hit the British film industry hard. As I type this, the UK Film Council is on a slow walk to the gallows, and the British Film Institute has had its budget slashed by 15%. The situation has become so bad that even our most successful filmmakers are forced to extraordinary lengths to get their films made. Just a few hours ago, while walking through Soho, I witnessed Stephen Frears suffocating Richard Curtis with a Waitrose carrier bag in a fight to the death for government funding.*

In the face of this cultural devastation, it’s easy to forget that Hollywood is also in the depths of a recession.

Over the last few years Hollywood has mitigated the effects of the financial downturn by making cheaper films, with fewer stars, derivative plots and, where possible, movies that are part of an existing, successful franchise.

This trend is particularly true when it comes to mid-budget horror. Previously by far the most innovative genre, and the breeding ground of some of the most interesting and creative directors who have worked in the business, it is now the home of inept remakes and artless filmmaking.

On the face of it, Paranormal Activity 2 typifies this depressing trend. The quickly-churned-out sequel to the remarkably successful Paranormal Activity was clearly shot on a shoestring**, features a cast so anonymous their own families barely recognise them, and has a plot that is the unholy lovechild of a non-consensual sexual encounter between Ghostbusters 2 and Poltergeist. In spite of this, it is, in fact, a solid, entertaining, and exceptionally well made film.

Although billed as a sequel, Paranormal Activity 2 is set before the events of the original film. This allows it to avoid getting bogged down in its own mythology, while appeasing fans of the franchise by focusing on the sister of the original film’s Katie.

As with its predecessor, the story is told using ‘found footage’ from a video camera. In this film, that footage is augmented by images from the home’s ‘security camera system’.  This allows the filmmakers to cut instantaneously between locations whilst still maintaining the original conceit. A relatively minor thing for conventional storytelling, but a massive leap forward for the Handicam Horror genre, it not only removes the need to move through the house with one character, but also makes it far more tense when we do.

Sadly that level of creativity does not extend to the film’s plot, which is essentially a tour of horror film clichés. Child in peril? Check. Teenage Ouija board use? Check. Something in the basemate? Bingo! While the film doesn’t suffer too much for this, it’s a shame that writer, Michael Peli, couldn’t have been more creative.

The film’s biggest flaw however, is in its lack of subtlety, particularly when it comes to the sound design. For some entirely inexplicable reason, director Tod Williams has chosen to preface every single scare with a low, rumbling sound. By doing this, he manages to strip any sense of foreboding or menace from other moments in the film.

For all its flaws, however, Paranormal Activity 2 is a fun film, which artfully balances scares and a sense of humour. Certainly worth a watch.

*Note to any libel lawyers/interested parties. This is a joke. It didn’t really happen. Please don’t sue me, or the site.

** Yes, it clearly cost a hell of a lot more than the first film, and wasn’t exactly a ‘low budget’ affair, but it’s still cheap in Hollywood terms.