Many US horror films made within the last thirty years feature haunted real estate narratives involving histories of land usurpation, territorial displacement, and other violence inflicted on socially marginalized groups. Insofar as the aftereffects of these histories recurrently manifest themselves in the form of spatial hauntings in such narratives, they can be said to resemble the workings of trauma whereby deeply disturbing past experiences continually disrupt the present. This essay argues that the Paranormal Activity film franchise (US, 2007–12) is animated less by the hermeneutics of social trauma structuring most haunted real estate films than by the free-floating anxieties attendant upon the financialization of postindustrial economies and exacerbated by the Great Recession. It theorizes that the franchise is symptomatic of a broader cultural exploration of an emergent recessionary imaginary and constitutes a contemporary horror subcycle wherein the well-worn idiom of trauma is replaced by more abstract and disembodied threats. In dialogue with Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff's concept of “occult economies,” this article explores the ways in which the franchise's found-footage aesthetic works together with the spatial dimensions of McMansions (single-family houses characterized by massive square footage totals) to generate a sense of fear with particular resonance for a contemporary culture characterized by financial speculation, increased privatization, and retrenchment of heteronormative ideals.
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Linda Liu; Occult Anxieties and the Recessionary Imaginary in the Paranormal Activity Franchise. Camera Obscura 1 December 2015; 30 (3 (90)): 61–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-3160652
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