Ever since The Blair Witch Project burst onto the scene in 1999, the discovery that scares didn’t require a lot of crazy effects or big name actors has prompted a lot of filmmakers to give found footage a try. Because of the nature of the subgenre, you can get away with being blurry or cutting away right before you see your big bad. It gets back to the idea that people’s imaginations make the monster even scarier.
The Blair Witch Project cost $60,000 to make and made over $248,000,000 worldwide (IMDb). The great feedback, along with the fact that you could hire unknown actors and work with an extremely minimal budget, led to studios flocking to make these films. It found success again, particularly with Paranormal Activity, which continued on to create a six film franchise. Found footage has become so prominent that most horror fans have become a little wary of it. To make it work, it follows certain formulas and plot lines that some feel have made it stale.
If you’re in that boat, I’m here to tell you that it is not the case! Found footage has been scarier than ever in recent years, as filmmakers begin experimenting with the formula and making it new and exciting for audiences that have become used to it.
Check out some of my favourites below!
1. Grave Encounters
This Canadian gem follows the crew of a TV show into an abandoned asylum. Any horror buff worth their salt knows that you NEVER traipse into an abandoned asylum, especially not at night. Paranormal hi-jinx ensue pretty quickly. While the abandoned hospital has been done to death, it is nonetheless very effective here. The traditional blurry and dark shots are used to great effect, and made for some serious closet checking for me the night that I watched it. While it is a more traditional story, the story takes a different direction into the finale that makes it a nice departure from the usual “aaaannnnnd they’re all dead” type of story.
2. Hell House LLC
This movie is a clever cross between found footage and mockumentary, as a camera crew interviews people regarding the disappearance of a crew putting together a haunted house five years ago. The last surviving member comes forward, providing tapes that document their last days in an abandoned hotel. This one is smart in that it leaves unanswered questions in a way that also acknowledges them. The effects are minimal, and this film uses simple techniques to scare the audience, especially with the use of of of the creepiest clown mannequins out there.
3. Found Footage 3D
Two brothers are making the next great found footage horror movie. As they navigate the rules of the subgenre (including hilariously arguing how they would explain that the found footage would have been shot with a 3D camera), unexplainable things begin to happen. This movie is a great meta horror, and watching the characters as they become victim to the found footage tropes is genuinely scary in parts. The tension mounts as they argue about why the hell they don’t just drop the freaking camera and haul ass out of there! This underseen gem will be appreciated by any horror fan out there.
4. The Gallows
Forget haunted houses…haunted schools are where it’s at! Schools at night are creepy enough on there own, let alone when you through a ghost into the mix. Some vandalizing teens are in for a surprise when they meet the ghost of Charlie, a boy who died during a school play years before. This one makes use of multiple cameras, and in one of my favourite scenes, shows the same scene over from a different camera. Dark and atmospheric, this one has enough slow burn tension mixed in with the usual jump scares to keep it interesting.
The found footage genre typically surrounds supernatural events. Creep is one of the few that takes a good old fashion serial killer story and puts the technique to work in a very different way. A filmographer has been hired by Joseph, a man who claims to be ill and wants his last days documented for his son. The story quickly unravels, and by the time he realizes that it’s time to skedaddle, the story takes a sharp turn into territory that you won’t expect. Follow this up with the excellent Creep 2 for an unexpected sequel that takes what could be a run of the mill slasher and subverts it completely.
6. As Above, So Below
As usual, this is another movie that gets a lot of flack, but surprise, surprise, I love it. A crew hires some locals to take them on an off-track wander through the catacombs as they search for a legendary artifact. They are soon predictably derailed by a cave in, but what follows is anything but predictable. As Above, So Below blends horror and adventure with history and stories about Hell, creating an engaging story with smart characters. This one breaks the biggest rule of found footage, that everyone must die. It could be argued that it is not found footage, but it’s not quite mockumentary, either. Because of the way it is shot, I would definitely consider this a found footage film.