The foundations of the horror genre are built upon scares, anticipation and tension. Without these elements, it can’t be classed as such (even though a lot of terrible remakes fall under such a banner, void of these three ingredients). If executed correctly, a horror film has the potential to be the most engaging of all genres, based purely on how it intends to make you feel.
The question is, why on earth would a craftsman or woman of this tricky genre – assuming they’ve hit the mark with the scares, the anticipation and the tension – opt to play their hand and display the best parts upfront in a trailer? A baffling concept, because where a thriller, drama or comedy can perhaps be forgiven to an extent, the element of surprise deep within the loins of horror is essential for its purpose and success. Without this, and with prior knowledge to an outcome of a scene, an entire experience can simply be rendered pointless.
You only need to view the trailer for the The Blair Witch Project to see a great example of how to do it effectively without overexposure. In fact, the unique element of it is that it barely uses any footage from the film, let alone reveal any of the major scares. It leaves a hell of a lot of mystery for its viewer to ponder over.
Paranormal Activity, simply put, is a story of a couple that believe their home is haunted by an unknown entity. Thus, the leads (Katie and Micah) set up cameras around the house in hope of catching whatever is spooking them in the act.
*If you’ve not seen the film then the analysis that follows contains spoilers*
What the trailer reveals
Obviously, we can see the trailer is purposefully aimed to instill the fear of God into anyone who watches it. And okay, the inclusion of a ‘genuine’ audience reaction works to evoke the terror, but after that we see a series of jumpy moments and scares that are not only rather creepy, but well made, too.
However, it’s these moments, where the bed sheets blow and the door slams, that use the element of suspense and surprise, therefore alleviating any potential audience from curiosity over what’ll happen next.
It’s these key moments they decide to use that ruin the unknown journey of the movie and, as mentioned earlier, once you take away this vital element, you’re not left with much to work with.
The final shot of the trailer is actually the final shot of the film. Why trailers insist on doing this is one of life’s mysteries. Sure, the footage included is probably the scariest for the fullest impact, but to include your film’s final shot is scandalous. Seeing a body (Micah) hurl towards the bedroom camera tells us he’s pretty screwed. What this also does is – due to the impact it has during this short few minute preview – cement itself in your memory, thus forcing the vivid image into your mind as you watch the film. It is the ‘waiting for the inevitable’, and when it does finally happen, it has not as nearly enough impact as seeing it for the first time.
There’s other shocks and surprises to be had in Paranormal Activity, but the main (and best) are revealed right here. The inclusion of ‘flying Micah’ is the most disappointing exploit in what is a well-made, scary movie. Shame it couldn’t have gone more down the Blair Witch route rather than the ‘show em all the best bits to hook ‘em in’ one.
Spoiler rating: 8/10