Yeah, we seem to be getting quite a lot of “found footage” movies these days. So much so, that it has sort of turned into its own sub-genre, and it’s a truly fascinating medium. Such films in this sub-genre tend to not have that “cinematic feel” to them; very low-budget and easy to make, which can relate to how we may use our consumer cameras each day. They look and sound like real raw footage that real people may have shot…to a certain degree. The sad truth is that most films in this category suffer greatly from seeming too unrealistic, too boring, too shaky, too silly, and soooo unnecessary (if you haven’t seen the Asylum’s Alien Origins, you are doing yourself a favor) So, after watching a little film called V/H/S, I decided to compile a Top 7 list of what I consider to be the most entertaining found-footage films (A.k.A, the ones where I can suspend my disbelief and not shout, “Why the hell are you filming this!?”)
7) Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director Ruggero Deodato brought us a little film about a documentary film crew that goes missing after filming Cannibal tribes in the Amazon. Later, their footage is discovered by an anthropologist, and we the viewers see what remained on film. Most people still believe that The Blair Witch Project was the first of its kind, but in actuality, we owe it all to Cannibal Holocaust as the stepping stone. Its beyond gruesome, being one of the most controversial films of all time. Its depiction of graphic violence, rape, torture and slaughter resembled a snuff film, enough to get it banned for a few years. While I think I have a strong tolerance for gore and disturbing visuals, something I won’t ever stand for is animal cruelty, and this film is full of it. Killing live animals for the sake of the movie is one of the biggest lows in the business, and if it wasn’t for the film’s underlying message, well-orchestrated music and stunning imagery, I could easily list this one as pretty offensive in my book. But nonetheless, I strongly recommend you see it, just once at least.
6) Paranormal Activity 1, 2, 3 (2007-2011)
Ah yes, people either love or hate this franchise. I personally enjoy the films, and I think they get better and better with each new entry (except for the 4th one, which was so dumb and so jump-scare heavy that I started losing hope for these movies) While Cloverfield might’ve had the bigger budget and box office results, I would definitely say that Paranormal Activity helped revitalize the horror genre, putting atmosphere, suspense, and fear of the unknown before blood and gore. To me, these movies are chilling, but not necessarily scary. What works is that you can at least buy that what is happening on camera is actually happening, whether you believe it or not, and tapping into our heads that what you don’t see is what’s truly scary. Most people’s gripe with the series are the characters, and just so I can set the record straight, the movies make it very clear that Katie is the one who is haunted, and not the house. Enough of all the “Well, why don’t they just leave?” questions. And quite honestly, I’m on the band wagon with the characters who may come off as jerks because they want to film evidence of activity as much as possible. I, along with many people in the world, would want to share that shit with the internet.
5) The Last Broadcast (1998)
This is an interesting addition to the list. It’s in the structure of a documentary, involving a show called Fact or Fiction, where a documentary filmmaker is uncovering the mystery of two public-access TV hosts who are murdered in the Pine Barrens, searching for the Jersey Devil. The whole thing feels very authentic, and it has you hooked from the start. There’s this feeling of dread and uncertainty, as well as the need to find out what is really at work here. The downside to this film is the last 5 minutes, which I won’t spoil. I’d say the first 80 or so minutes are really worth the watch if you get around to it.
4) The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This one should come as no surprise. Outside of being one of the highest grossing indie films at the time and being heavily advertised via internet, The Blair Witch Project is still hailed in thousands of lists as one of the best horror films of all time. It is genuinely frightening in that it messes with your head throughout the whole thing. Most mainstream audiences at the time still couldn’t tell if it was real or fake, and that only added to the marketing and success of this low-budget picture. The characters are identifiable, the feeling of isolation and unease is always present, and its a film that is just left to speculation and interpretation, nothing more. It wasn’t the first in its sub-genre, but it certainly sparked the craze for more found footage movies. I would recommend you see this one, but you probably already have.
3) REC (2007)
This Spanish horror film shouldn’t be missed out on. The title REC is derived from RECORD on a video camera, and this one is about a reporter and her cameraman who follow a fire crew for their show after they receive a distress call from an apartment building. Upon reaching an elderly woman who is locked in her apartment, absolute chaos ensues as the secrets of an extraordinary pandemic in the building unfold. This film delivers some of the most genuine and genius-making scares that Hollywood seems to be missing. Of all the films I’ve listed that take advantage of atmosphere and tension, this one does it best. It currently has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, so you might as well give this one a shot. By the way, I would advise skipping the American Remake, Quarantine. That one was lame.
2) Trollhunter (2011)
It’s rare that we get some more self-aware and somewhat amusing films in the found footage genre (Grave Encounters for instance) Trollhunter is centered around a group of Norwegian filmmakers that team up with an actual Trollhunter to capture trolls on camera, which are thought to be a government conspiracy. I’ve got a lot of respect for the creativity in this one: a great balance of humor and scares thrown in. Director and Writer Andre Ovredal knew to put a lot of attention towards famous Norwegian folklore and the concepts of how such trolls work. Some of the CGI looks a little off, but it didn’t take me out of it. The Norwegian atmosphere itself is quite dazzling if I might add. Not much else to say, other than the fact that it really is an entertaining movie that deserves more recognition.
1) Chronicle (2012)
This was the one where I knew that the found footage sub-genre still had some balls. This particular film follows a high school student who deals with a lot of abuse at home and resentment at school. It also doesn’t help that his mother is dying in the hospital. He resorts to filming things with his new camera as an outlet, followed by a party one night where he, his cousin, and his friend discover something underground that gives them telepathic powers the next day. It’s all fun and games for awhile, until their powers and responsibilities are brought to new heights, and conflict forms between friends and family. The film is a character study, simple, yet very effective. The main character is the tragic hero who can’t take anymore of the pain that gets inflicted upon him. I enjoy how the movie finds creative ways to film certain segments without using just the single camera. The character-driven story is structured very well, and proves to be a gripping tale with a super hero-like lore to it. There’s also a lot of care that went into the writing, and I just hope many future films can follow Chronicle’s example.