As a devoted devourer of horror movies I’ve noticed a trend that has begun to creep into the film genre with disturbing regularity. So much so that it’s become almost the norm rather than a selectively-used style of cinematography to set a particular tone for a horror film.
I’m talking about “the shaky cam.”
Horror filmmakers, I humbly implore you to stop the abuse of the shaky cam. It’s not cute or clever anymore. Once, it was used to punctuate a scene to indicate a frantic chase or offer a first-person perspective of a demonic creature (or tree) poised to attack (See “Evil Dead”). Used sparingly, it was an inventive, albeit low-budget effect that added a little something extra to a sequence to heighten the action.
Then, some genius decided using the shaky cam throughout an entire movie would be a good idea. What was once a special effect has now devolved into a convenient way to excuse a shoddy script by distracting (re: beating the viewer over the head) the viewer with low-budget/indie indicative visuals.
It started with “The Blair Witch Project.” The film was declared an indie darling that broached the mainstream and made people wonder if it wasn’t completely fabricated because it seemed so gosh-darn authentic (while still being pretentious and frustrating to watch).
Basically, it was the cinematic equivalent of Zooey Deschanel.
And like a closet full of sundresses and a thick fringe of bangs for Zooey, “The Blair Witch Project’s” accoutrement of choice to prove its authenticity was the shaky cam.
Then, the shaky cam disappeared for awhile. Although “Blair Witch” was the biggest thing to happen to the horror genre in years, the approaching millennium ushered in a wave of apocalypse-themed flicks as a dominant force, later supplanted by a crop of horror films centered around unfettered gore.
Post-millennium, the shaky cam came back like Brett Favre. Only this time, it wasn’t just for low-budget films. Au contraire, mon frère! Now, multi-million dollar productions were getting in on the act.
Despite its $30 million budget, “Cloverfield” decided to “slum it” with the shaky cam for that sense of documentary realism – so much so that film goers complained of feeling like they wanted to toss their cookies.
It also became de rigueur for films about gruesome epidemics (“28 Days Later,” “Quarantine”).
Indie film “Paranormal Activity” abused the shaky cam like Lindsey Lohan abuses alcohol and the court’s leniency.
Subsequently, the shaky cam has become the go-to style of choice for any horror film involving possession and DIY exorcisms (“The Last Exorcism” and “Exorcismus,” to name a few). No priests necessary! Just add shaky cam and stir!
People, this shaky cam business has got to stop. Seriously.
I propose that Hollywood band together to hold a telethon encouraging people to donate money so that every horror filmmaker can have his or her own Steadicam. I mean, the shaky cam phenomenon has already spread past the horror genre. Sci-fi films (“District 9” and “Battle: Los Angeles,” I’m looking at you.) have also co-opted the nausea-inducing technique. At the rate things are going, it’s only a matter of time before Disney and Pixar start introducing the shaky cam into animated features.
If Hollywood won’t get behind the Anti-Shaky Cam movement, then it’s up to us horror film fans to put a halt to the hand-held madness. Boycott all movies that have more than 25% shaky-cam shots! Don’t hold back the vomit in the movie theatres when the cinematography starts to feel like a hangover minus the fun! Do whatever it takes to make sure that the shaky-cam becomes just an effect and not an entire method of filmmaking.
And for the love of all that’s unholy, just stop making “Paranormal Activity” franchise films altogether!