All of 23 years ago now, The Blair Witch Project horrified and delighted audiences around the world, making a killing at the box office. As a result, it was a pretty safe bet that it wouldn’t be long before other filmmakers started jumping on the ‘found footage’ bandwagon.
Move than two decades later, the popularity of the ‘found footage’ film – a term which, in usage, typically encompasses other ‘P.O.V.’ narrative and montage-based films, not just those which, like The Blair Witch Project and its antecedent Cannibal Holocaust, purport to be ‘found’ or ‘recovered’ footage – shows no signs of giving up the ghost any time soon.
Having said that, whilst this sub-genre is one of the most popular and prolific right now, it wasn’t all that long ago that many a horror fan would jump on social media to vent their frustrations whenever a new found-footage film was announced. A great example of just how much of a hot button issue it was was an event held at 2014’s Fantastic Fest, when Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League went toe to toe with director Ti West (who dipped his toes in the found-footage waters with The Sacrament) to thrash out their differences of opinion. When the final bell rang the outright winning conclusion was that “the ‘found footage’ genre was a cancer eating away at the integrity of cinema.”
That might have been the general opinion back then but now, as recent game-changers have shown – Host and The Deep House – we’re looking at you – ‘found footage’ can be the most effective format for shaking audiences to their core, and that’s why it’s a sub-genre that will never outstay its welcome.
Case in point: this is a sub-genre ripe for dissection, something that filmmakers Sarah Appleton and Philipp Escott realized and tackled during lockdown, creating the insightful and eye-opening documentary The Found Footage Phenomenon. Featuring interviews with directors whose work is deemed fundamental to found footage and the horror genre as a whole, Appleton and Escott’s documentary tracks the origins of the found footage format and how it transformed over time in line with technological advances over the past few decades.
With the documentary dropping on Shudder today, May 19, Cinemachords’ Ashley Northey and Howard Gorman sat down with co-director Escott to find out how he decided on which touchstone classics to include in this love letter to the sub-genre and what obscure nuggets of found footage history he discovered during his deep dive into one of the most prolific horror sub-genres going.