We’re filing this one under the Horror Sub-genre of Found Footage. Not only is this one of the most financially successful horror movies of all time, according to some sources it’s the most profitable motion picture ever made. In a reversal for Hollywood… it even spawned a Japanese remake: Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Nights (usually we’re the ones remaking their awesome horror flicks).
So what is Found Footage? I’m glad you asked. Most people think the whole fund footage craze began with The Blair Witch Project, but they would be wrong. Blair Witch was 1999 and Cannibal Holocaust was in 1980. Found footage is a narrative that’s put together supposedly of film footage that is ‘found’ that’s a recording of missing people that has some explanation of what happened, a ‘Found” record of events, if you will. It’s just another narrative technique storytellers have in their toolbox. Kind of like epistolary novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where a narrative unfolds through the use of diary entries, newspaper articles, letters, etc.
In Paranormal Activity, what we get is a home documentary of strange events that seem to happen while a couple sleep that escalates through the film. There’s very little that’s seen that could be classified as shocking or even terrifying, but what you get is the verisimilitude that creates tension and tension builds inside us with each passing night of home filming. It’s masterfully done.
One reason why movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are so successful is not due to their special effects (which are almost nonexistent). It’s due to the human imagination. Why should a director spend tons of money showing anything scary that a special effects company comes up with when the human imagination is much worse when given a little nudge and then shown darkness. We imagine the worst monsters. The worst demons, the worst ghosts. We hear people scream in the dark, then we realize we’re sitting in a dark theater. There’s automatic empathy, maybe not for the characters, because let’s face it…Micah is kind of a tool in this movie taunting the demon and bringing in the Ouija board even after he promised his girlfriend he wouldn’t. Such a dick move! But he gets his in the end…or should I say one of the multiple endings this film ended up with. I prefer the original ending with the police coming in and …blah blah blah, you know the rest. (By the way, this suggest-don't-show method is what makes erotica way more sexy than porn...same concept.)
The only downfall to these found footage films is usually the footage is very shaky and that tends to give viewers headaches. Cloverfield had some great moments, but I’ll never watch it again because I almost got motion sickness from watching it. Chronicle wasn’t so bad, but my favorite of the bunch has to be The Last Exorcism. Hands down the creepiest. Though I hear The Tunnel and Quarantine are really good, I haven’t seen them.
Anyway, as most of you know Paranormal Activity has become a very successful franchise. I can handle ghosts and even demons, but things moving that aren’t supposed to has always been my Achilles heel of horror. Maybe that’s why I don’t like watching these movies alone!