When people mention found footage people immediately think of films like The Blair Witch Project complete with its extreme close-ups and vomit inducing camera techniques. But used right, found footage can become just as effective as 3D in providing an immersive environment, creating an opportunity for audiences to grow closer to a film. So with the recent release of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Devil’s Due it would seem that found footage films are still popular with modern audiences. As such, we have taken this opportunity to delve into the history of the genre to investigate if it’s any good as a style of filmmaking.
The genre began years before with the 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust, but the genre did not come into its own until The Blair Witch Project’s effective viral marketing had the world fooled making audiences around the globe believe it was real. Fast forward to recent times and with the advancement of technology and the Internet, this kind of storytelling has become part of our culture with the introduction of Social Media and YouTube.
Considering the profitability of found footage it was only a matter of time before writers began to experiment with different ways to use it. Since the release of The Blair Witch Project (1999), studios were quick to jump on the bandwagon and released their own found footage films which also performed well at the box office with such films like Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008). But despite their success, audiences have continued to struggle in embracing this style of filmmaking and aren’t quite on the shaky-cam bandwagon.
But why do the studios continue to release found footage films knowing very well that it divides audiences? This answer to this is simple. Not only do these kind of films require a much smaller budget to make but they also come with a stronger potential for high return on their investments. So what about indie filmmakers? What does the found footage genre offer to them? We already know that employing this style can be a cheap but found footage provides a cheap way of making a film as practically any story can be turned into a found footage movie.
So in today’s sea of found footage titles it is worth remembering that for every Paranormal Activity there are several lesser impressive imitations that are just plain awful. In an effort to save you time we have put together a list of five films which we believe are solid examples of found footage movies that use this style of filmmaking to its advantage.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Dir. Scott Glosserman
Set in a world where Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers are real, BTM: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is told through the lens of a camera man and a journalism intern as they shadow an up and coming serial killer. Through the film we see interviews with Leslie and he shows us into the world of being a serial killer. Doing for found footage films what Scream did for the slasher genre, I strongly urge you to check this out.
Dir. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Rec is a terrifying film shot from the perspective of a camera man working with a reporter who are spending the night with a group of firemen to observe what they get up to when night falls. The night starts off slow until a routine call comes in and she is invited along. At the location, an old women is found badly hurt, soon things begin to spiral out of control. The film has a very claustrophobic feel to it and the horrors found inside the apartment building are superbly done and actually scary.
Dir. Matt Reeves
Some may say that Cloverfield is a film which divides audiences but I think it provides a breath of fresh air for monster movies. The film follows a group of party-goers trying desperately to survive the chaos in New York when a huge alien monster is laying waste to the city.
Despite a relatively short running time the film is packed with plenty of action, jump scares and some outstanding special effects.
Dir. Josh Trank
Chronicle is a clear example of found footage that does not belong to the horror genre. The story follows three high school students who gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. As they learn to master their new found powers their bond is tested when one of them embraces their dark side. Featuring impressive visuals and a solid soundtrack the movie effortlessly begins as a found footage film but quickly grows into a fast-paced action movie.
Dir. Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard
The Creepshow of found footage, the film’s wrap-around follows a team of unlikable criminals breaking into what appears to be an uninhabited residence hoping to recover a specific tape. Upon searching the house, the guys are confronted with a dead body, a hub of old televisions and an endless supply of cryptic footage, each video stranger than the last. Featuring hauntings, serial killers, paranormal activity and other unexplained phenomenon V/H/S will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Is found footage cheap filmmaking or immersive entertainment? The answer is both but filmmakers and studio bosses need to remember that using creative camera techniques as a substitute for lousy characters, a bad idea, or bad story telling. However, there are films like the ones above which prove that when done right, found footage can become immersive entertainment.
What is your verdict on found footage? Share your opinions in the comments below.