The Rise of Found-Footage Horror

Why Paranormal Activity 4 and other new scary movies don't look like movies at all

Adopting a "found document," first-person stance goes way back. Both Frankenstein and the original Blacula, Dracula, were written as first-person frames consisting of excerpts from letters and journals—narrative formats with which the tubercular, bedridden readers of the era were already familiar. For them, these layers of voyeurism and Peeping Tomism likely added to the frisson of horror and sexy, sexy danger evoked, respectively, by Shelley and Stoker.

But for all the emotional immediacy, a first-person cameraman/narrator is also an inherently delimiting and story-circumscribing device. Like the first-person narrator in written fiction, she's privy only to the circumstances in the immediate vicinity, reliant upon expositional angels to descend into the frame and tell her about the greater world outside. The Paranormal Activity movies have no metaphysical ambitions beyond the interior of a suburban home, and at the end of the day, for all its apocalyptic, Manhattan-obliterating scale, Cloverfield really is just a story about a bunch of trust fund douchebags having a bad night.

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12 comments
cupofbeans
cupofbeans

@LFDonaldson Thank you very much! Coincidentally enough, I was planning on having a look for articles just like this one next week!

jdykhouse
jdykhouse

@proctor @acbleach "Frankenstein and... Dracula were written as first-person frames" good point; been an effective device for a long time

epac666
epac666 topcommenter

I can't believe the writer didn't mention "The Blair Witch Project"...which I believe started the current trend.

pete
pete

Totally not scary and just plain dumb.  How can you live in NYC and call this one of the scariest movies of the past ten years?  There's more scares on one of the reality ghost shows on tv.   Give me a break. 

LFDonaldson
LFDonaldson

@cupofbeans Oh good, glad it will come in useful then!

proctor
proctor

@jdykhouse Definitely more terrifying when you are the "I" in the movie/book, experiencing terror as they see it (or don't!)

jdykhouse
jdykhouse

@proctor That's why horror video games scare me more than horror movies; I'm actually making the decisions, not watching an actor do it

proctor
proctor

@jdykhouse true. Deeper investment.

jdykhouse
jdykhouse

@proctor nope, both work. In a VG I'm actually capable of dying, unlike a movie where I'll always see what happens after a character dies

proctor
proctor

@jdykhouse (sure there's a name for that!)

proctor
proctor

@jdykhouse does it make a dif to you whether you're seeing thru the eyes if the character or watching your character full-body?

 

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