You have to work hard to make your freaky demon-ghost movie that's set in 1988 more unsettling and frightening than that classy peach-beige color everybody's walls were painted back then. And when set designers are as solidly on their game as the people who worked on this movie, when a black lacquer orb of a lamp successfully competes with an invisible hell-creature for your fascination, your job as a director becomes even more vital. You have to be better than the furniture.
The second chapter of this series took a Xanax and just coasted, loosening up the action and expanding it to a larger house, refusing to provide any new fear-twists besides a clever construction -- remember, it was both a prequel and a sequel -- and trading on whatever leftover dread you brought with you to seeing it. What made the first film extremely effective (besides its novelty, its decent twist on the Blair Witch technique and its sneaky marketing campaign) was the tightly framed mystery. You had no idea what was down that dark hall. You just knew it was going to drag that terrified couple straight to hell and possibly follow you back to your own house after the credits rolled. But now it's Round Three and time for the Hugely Successful Scare Franchise to step up its game.
It would be breaking the rules of the International Brotherhood of Horror Fans to tell you specific details, but what it accomplishes well enough is what it knows it's obligated to do: that video camera has to bring the tension again and it does so with the clever hacking of an oscillating fan; the fear of the unknown that dominated the first installment has no choice but to take a back seat to increasingly inventive jolts, because at this point even people who've never watched one of these films knows that this "thing" is never gonna give Katie up; finally, the shock moments better be pretty awesome. They are.
Meanwhile, the plot has to dispense with the already known What and step back in time to explain the Why. It does that effectively, too. How on board you still are for this chapter and the inescapable next one will hinge on your level of commitment to being scared, even just a little. You can never go back in time and recapture the screamy magic of your first date with a horror movie series, but if that date turns into love -- or even just strong "like" -- you'll keep on seeing each other. PA2 risked losing me as a life partner, but this one's definitely better than the furniture. I'm back in.