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Analysis Of The Movies "Paranormal Activity" And "Suspiria"

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Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is a film based on the terrifying journey a couple have to go through in a house full of ghosts. It is captured in a smilar style to The Blair Witch Project (Sanchez, 1999) with its intense quick pans and handheld shots, along with nighttime vision and external lighting, allowing for a more realistic experience for audience members “…colour’s influential association with reality was itself influenced by aesthetic factors: the more accurately films were able to represent colour, the more they were percieved as realistic” (Misek, 2010, p. 47). The lighting alternates throughout the film gradually to aid the anticipation of terror and this is a common horror trope according to Xiangyi Fu (2016, p. 31) as he explains that “filmmakers shooting in color tend to use combinations of color and light to influence audiences’ mood.”. For example, at the beginning of the film as there are suspisions of paranormal activity in the house the set lighting is natural in the daytime with a cool toned blue hue, suggesting that this is a place for the the non-living to live as the colour blue has connotations surrounding death and characters of a cold demeanor. Also, the shadows created by the external light add a darker shaded vignette on the frame to suggest something lurking around them in their natural environment.

This can be progressively seen continuing through the film for instance when Katie is beginning to feel the effects of the paranormal spirits she sits outside when her partner runs out with the camera and external lighting. In figure 9 below it can be seen that the the effects of the chiarscuro lighting could allow an audience to focus soley on the high contrast parts of the frame, which is her motionless, limp body on the swing. As the edges of the frame are blacked out with shadow this causes the fear of the unknown in the dark, which is the main theme of this film. Furthermore, the tension is built further with static movement on the screen as shadows are a main focus in the dark. As mentioned previously, black has connotations of death suggesting that possible dark activity in the frame may cause the further feeling of terror. As Cherry (2009, p.80) explains that “In ?lms that are largely psychological or supernatural, modes of e?ect can be created through suggestion [and] the use of lighting” this means that the spectacle of horror will be emphasised through the approach regarding shadows, highlighting a specific object or person, which is similar to The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973) as Father Merrin stands under the spotlight of a street lamp to suggest that he is an interrupting pure force in this world of evil.

Following on from this Katie’s character wears a white top throughout the beginning of the film and as disclosed before in Horror Aesthetics, this is similar to Marion’s character in Psycho as, according to McLeod (2016, p. 157), the colour white has connotations with purity, transparency and cleanliness and this relates well in context of the narrative as Katie has the perfect life, husband and job; there is really nothing wrong in her life, which is why white is being worn by her character. In relation to ‘cleanliness’ her house is clean of evil spirits as white can also be associated with spirituality and enlightenment – ‘seeing the light’. However, further into the film Katie can be seen wearing a black top once the ghosts have infected her house and posessed her character. In Western cultures black has connotations of death and mourning, sadness and black moods can be associated with deep depression (McLeod, 2016, p. 158) which is relevant to her situation as the spirits in the house have taken over her soul, insinuating that she is mourning the loss of her life. Furthermore, her character is commonly seen throughout the film wearing many shades of blue, for example when she and her partner become scared of the paranormal activity she wears blue and covers herself in a blue blanket as she cries. According to Feisner (2006, p. 122) blue is a colour representative of introversion and sadness and this is a common connotation in Western cultures for example – ‘I feel blue’ is a phrase used to mean feeling down.

To continue, towards the end of the film the colour is graded to a conspicuous cool toned blue to represent the idea of CCTV cameras watching the characters in the night. This is a common feature of security in everyday life which is why this idea becomes more realistic and sinister as this is a way of catching theives and killers in murder investigations. The same colour blue is used as a tint at the beginning of the film however, now it is used as a full colour grade to suggest the idea that the dead spirits have now filled the home completely and there is no escape as in this scene ghosts are pulling the characters out of bed and controlling their actions.

Similarly, when the characters are filming in the day time the tungsten light used is very warm on their faces. This orange/ yellow tone is commonly represented in nature – sunsets, leaves in Autumn and fruit and flowers (Feisner, 2006, p.121). It is common to relate these colours with the feeling of life and happiness as that is what nature suggests. Alternatively, yellow is a hue most easily perceived and is seen before other colours, especially when placed against black. According to Feisner (2006, p. 121) “This combination is often used as a warning sign in nature, by insects such as bees, and in industry to signal hazardous situations.” and so when this warm toned yellow is paired with the black darkness of the shadows surroundings Katie’s character this could be seen as a warning sign, foreshadowing future events of possession and death.

Suspiria

Suspiria is a film about a young girl who arrives at a new ballet school, only to find out that she has entered into a witches’ coven. After a dangerous journey she is stripped of her innocence as she destroys the coven. This film completely juxtaposes Paranormal Activity due to its absurd, gothic-fairytale style structure to the film, compared to a more realist approach.

This colourful horror demonstrates themes of sexuality and violence though a broad colour pallet. For example, as the audience first sees the protagonist she is hailing a taxi in the rain, wearing virginal white clothing, suggesting a sort of vulnerability she will carry throughout the film. This colour has many connotations with purity and innocence and according to Feisner (2006, p. 120) it could alternatively be associated with cowardliness and surrendering for example, raising a white flag during war. This idea could suggest that she is surrendering herself to sexual desires as she matures through the film, which is a motif presented throughout.

As she reaches the bright red exterior walls of the ballet school she is surrounded by the colour of lust, suggesting the intentions of her visit may not turn out so pure. This colour features throughout the film mainly contrasting with the colour blue to highlight the confusion of her sexuality. Red and blue are commonly known as binary oppositions suggesting a theme of good VS evil. This can also be seen in Star Wars: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977) as the light-saber colours contrast one another, following this same theme. According to McLeod (2016, p. 29) the colour red is an activating colour, energising and arousing, and can be counted on to evoke a passionate response but not always a favourable one. The theme of sexuality is continued on when Suzy and Sara are under their bed covers together, the close up of their heads pressed together is washed with a red filter over the top as they discuss the snoring of one of their teachers. This intimate scene is, once again, suggestive of the feeling of lust in this female dominant film as the bright red highlights their faces however, in context this colour also represents their vulnerability for the danger that lies ahead of them as a silhouette of a shadow emerges from their covers suggesting terror. The colour blue is also used in a way to express terror as it highlights the cold nature of the witches, which is a signifier of death. This colour is therefore not only a way to warn the audience of the horror to come but it is more of an embodiment of such danger, substituting the witches presence.

Another example of this is as Suzy is creeping down the corridor of the ballet school, knowing witches are on the loose, she is lit in a red and blue light, once again highlighting the conflict of interest between staying safe in the blue or heading towards danger in the red. The neutral costume she wears reflects these colours as white is able to absorb some of the colour, suggesting that she is being enticed into making some of the decisions in the film by being lured into the witches headquarters. However, when Suzy goes to tell Sarah about the witches the room turns an unsettling coloured green. In many films green has connotations with poison, evil and the green witch, all of which are relevant to Suspiria (Feisner, 2006, p.122). As mentioned previously the colour pallet uses uncommon colours found in stereotypical horror films as these vibrant tones create an unbalanced, nightmarish attraction to make an audience feel uncomfortable. Vittoro explains that “I used the usually reassuring primary colours only in their purest essence, making them immediately, surprisingly violent and provocative. This brings the audience into the world of Suspiria”. (Williams, 2010, p. 70). For example, in another scene when Suzy is running away from the evil witches her face and body are lit in red, which has the connotations of danger and the devil (Feisner, 2006, p.121), as red is a very dominant primary colour this could suggest that Suzy is the current target for the witches to kill. However, the background is lit in yellow, which in Western cultures, according to Mclver (2016, p. 28) is the colour of cowardice and greed, which could represent Suzy’s character running away from her problems.

One of the most common motifs in this film are the silhouettes created by shadows and this is a classic trope of horror used to create suspense and terror as usually these represent the something that may kill the protagonist, for example, the shower scene in Psycho. As mentioned previously, a silhouetted shadow is created in a scene where the girls at ballet school must rest in a make-shift dorm room made of white sheets, where Suzy and Sarah huddle under them. The colour white has the connotations of peacefulness and innocence (Feisner, 2006, p.120) which suggests their naivety as children to find protection under their bed covers. A silhouette is created on these white sheets, infiltrating their shield of protection with a dark figure. This colour black is highlighted as the contrast against the white becomes a prominent feature in this scene. According to Kandinsky (1977, p. 68), in Western culture “Black is something burnt out, like the ashes of a funeral pyre, something motionless like a corpse. The silence of black is the silence of death.”. This connotation correlates to the witches in the scene who can be seen as a manifestation of death. This also relates to the use of black magic, which can

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