How the ‘Paranormal Activity’ Formula Would Work in Other Genres


We’ve survived two “Paranormal Activity” films and are about to let a third one haunt our dreams, so we’re pretty familiar with the formula by now: people use surveillance cameras and camcorders to document what’s happening in their homes; terror and pants-wetting ensue. This same basic idea — a movie being filmed by the characters themselves — has worked well for horror flicks but has yet to be tried extensively in other genres. It’s time to remedy that.

Romantic comedy

In “Love Camera,” Chad and Sara have been dating for a couple years with no sign of getting married, and that’s starting to frustrate Sara. When her job requires her to attend a weeklong conference in Miami, she invites Chad — an unemployed filmmaker — to tag along and make a vacation out of it, hoping this will reignite the spark between them. Naturally, he brings his ubiquitous video camera, too, which is something else that frustrates Sara. To top it all off, Chad starts acting suspicious. Could he be cheating on Sara? Inspired by Chad, Sara gets a camera of her own — and secretly mounts it in the corner of their hotel suite so she can see what he’s up to while she’s at her conference all day. It turns out he’s being secretive because he’s planning to propose to her! “Love Camera” winds up being the movie that Chad and Sara show at their wedding reception.

Murder mystery

In the grand tradition of Agatha Christie, five couples are invited to a wealthy stranger’s house on a private island. A few of the guests, curious about the occasion and recognizing that the scenario reminds them of a murder mystery, have brought along video cameras; the movie consists entirely of what they shot. Sure enough, someone is killed — and the perpetrator must still be among them! By reviewing their own footage and carefully examining it for background clues, two of the guests are able to solve the mystery. But can they solve it in time to save their own lives?? (They can. That’s how there can be a sequel.) The movie is called “Ten Little Handycams.”

Spy thriller

It’s called “Kamera,” it’s set during the Cold War, and it consists of surveillance footage from CIA cameras planted in KGB headquarters, and from KGB cameras hidden at the CIA, as both sides plan stealth attacks on one another. The conceit is that the footage was found in vaults in Washington and Moscow and is being released now to show how close we came to nuclear war. (Hmm. This is actually kind of a good idea for a movie. Please do not steal it.)


OK, stay with me here. The movie is set in the Old West, and it’s your basic story about a righteous sheriff trying to keep the peace after a gang of rowdies comes to town. The sheriff wants to document the trouble these guys are causing; unfortunately, video cameras do not exist, because it’s the Old West. So he hires an artist to follow him around and produce a continuous series of quick sketches. The movie is composed of those sketches, shown in a series that approximates animation, with sound added. Title: “Quick on the Draw.”

Heartwarming family film about animals

In “That Doggone Camera!” the Petersons have a new addition to their family: a huge, lovable Saint Bernard named Butterfield! The big fella is sweet, but he sure does make a mess! Loves to chew on things, too, though 8-year-old Timmy Peterson is trying to teach him proper manners. Butterfield is Timmy’s bestest friend! But when some of the family’s cherished heirlooms get torn to pieces, Butterfield is the obvious culprit, and Timmy is devastated. Eager to prove his faithful companion’s innocence, he puts up surveillance cameras around to house to see who’s REALLY causing all this destruction. And it turns out it’s Timmy’s 2-year-old sister, Sally! Everyone has a good laugh, Butterfield is off the hook, and Sally is sold to gypsies.