If I recalled correctly, the American horror was at its best 1970s to 1980s, where great movies like Exorcist (1973), Creepshow 2 (1987), Amityville Horror (1979), and Poltergeist (1982). However, such success is followed by roughly two decades of teenage gore movies and zombies movies. In fact, during the 2000s, most of the decent American horror are remakes of Asian horrors like Ringu, Ju-on, The Eye, One Missed Call, and so forth.
Having said that, there is a new resurgence in this genre again. In fact, it seems that moviemakers are taking a few notes from the J-horror series and starting to create something praiseworthy. The first time I notice this is Paranormal Activity. The horror direction goes from overuse of “ketchup”, gore, and “scary” violin backgrounds to a more silent and brooding approach. Furthermore, a decent amount of back story was sprinkled throughout the movie, moving the genre slightly closer to horror-mystery. In fact, this is roughly the style that The Conjuring used.
When I got to the ticket counter and got my tickets, the receptionist said that this movie is seriously scary and definitely worth my while. The movie features two plotlines between the Perron Family, who moved into the haunted house and Warrens, the paranormal investigators. The story intertwine perfectly with massively amount of good horror scenes mixed in between, creating an entertaining work. Having said that, after watching the movie, the receptionist was roughly 80% right.
Wait a minute… Was the movie worth my while? Yes. Was the movie seriously scary? It was a lot of good moments, but I can’t list it as seriously scary. Was the execution good? It wasn’t just good, it was great! The whole movie flows without any awkward moments in between.
So why just 80% then? That is the part I want to get to. While the movie is scary, it’s not “creepy”; that is actually the difference between J-horror and American horror.
According to a japanese review website, there are 4 elements to horror. The first is “scariness”, which signifies the tension buildup you feel before the moment comes. The second is “impact”, which is how quickly the phenomenon occurs and the stun the audience feel when looking at it. For instance, a ghost rushing towards the camera would be “impact”, the audience usually is temporary stunned before they figured out to run away from the ghost. The third is “resolution”, which is basically how clearly you can see the phenomenon. For instance, a will o wisp has a much lower “resolution” as a shadow, which has a lower “resolution” than an apparition showing up. The last one, and probably the most important one, is “creepiness”. This is the lasting impression to the audience – the paranoia.
Very often in American horror, you see the first two elements used thoroughly. The blood and the gore portrays the impact element; while scariness is created through story buildup and execution. However, overuse of the tension can easily make the horror more predictable. I can easily anticipate when the “Boo” comes along even though I haven’t seen the movie before.
Meanwhile, if you notice carefully, J-horror tends to use the latter two elements. Very often J-horror love to use unexpected low resolution haunting in the background. The one I like most is during Ju-on, where one of the protagonist was in the elevator going up, while Toshio was standing in front of the elevator of every floor, staring at the protagonist. This in turn enhances the creepiness because the audience knows the character is already doomed, and the character’s ignorance makes the audience even more aware of their own surroundings.
The creepiness is further enhanced when the character can easily encounter the paranormal through everyday life and regular objects, such as a TV, or better yet, a mirror (Imagine the mirror-image moving different when you’re looking away from it…) Paranormal Activity is especially creepy because of this. As a matter of fact, adding statics to the video might even take the creepiness to the next level.
In the end, what I’m trying to say is that the Conjuring has a great build up of tension, but the moments may be a bit predictable. As a result, when something goes down, the audience can kind of anticipated it some time ago. Perhaps, the movie would be even better with some “feint,” more unpredictability, and less trailer (Because the movie trailer shows way too much of the best moments)