Genre… generic or not?

For this week’s task I met up with a few other members of our course to discuss the different aspects of genre and the media artefacts that we believe individually, gives the term ‘genre’ justice. Personally, I chose the film ‘Paranormal Activity’  to analyse as I believe that it’s plotline relates to the horror genre yet certain aspects within the conventions of the genre do not appear within the film, making it difficult to signify what is ‘horrific’ about the film.

In terms of the questions set, as a group we discussed the reasons behind its production and why the producers made it this way. For example, we see that the film does indeed follow typical conventions of a horror in terms of the story line, but in terms of the cinematography and appearance, not all criteria are met. As we can see, the darkened lighting and night-time setting adheres to the frightening atmosphere of a horror genre, however, this is only due to the time of day, not necessarily put there on purpose, yet it does in fact relate to these codes that must be met in order to create a successful horror. In terms of aspects that did not match these conventions, non-diegetic sounds were missing, as we see that most horrors are built around the terrifying music, such as the Jaws soundtrack that the public recognise as an approaching villain. Yet Paranormal Activity had no such thing but rather played on the diegetic sounds such as breathing and footsteps of the unknown ‘Spirit’, adding to the suspense and mystery of this film. Therefore, in my opinion it does adhere to the conventions of a horror genre as we see that it still successfully creates the scary, tense and abnormal reactions that most horrors mirror. On the other hand, due to the missing conventions and the fact that the whole film is shot through a handheld camera, gives the impression of a documentary-type movie, very similar to movies such as ‘Cloverfield (2008)’ and ‘Blair Witch Project (1999)’, also films that do not follow typical generic codes of a horror, yet still manage to create a frightening impact on the audience. However, we do not un-consciously categorise this movie as a documentary because it is distributed throughout cinemas rather than festivals, constraining this expected style of documentary. Furthermore, documentaries are usually non-fiction programmes based on facts with real people’s lives recorded, whereas Paranormal Activity is obviously fictional.

In terms of the distribution process, after researching the film’s background, I discovered that Paranormal Activity started out at just an independent film by a company named ‘Blumhouse Productions’. It was filmed in 2007 but was not released until 2009 through the distributors Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks. As a group we believe that it was released for entertainment purposes, anchoring our opinion that it adheres to the generic conventions of a horror genre through its fictional, Hollywood blockbuster style, rather than a documentary genre that are usually only distributed for educational purposes.

As a result of our discussion, I believe that not all horrors hold the typical codes and conventions of a generic genre, yet they still manage to uphold the style and expected reactions from the audience.


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