Found footage is a subgenre that has received its fair share of negativity over the years. The Blair Witch Project came out and an exhausting number of gimmicky films followed, trying to capture that same lightning in a bottle.
However, I have always had a soft spot for found footage, and my patience has paid off. In recent years, found footage has seen a creative resurgence, going back to its genuinely terrifying roots. I’d been following The Fear Footage on social media, and was excited to be lucky enough to receive a copy to review. And it paid off: The Fear Footage is a great example of how found footage can deliver big scares with a low budget.
The main thread of this anthology follows a police officer, Leo Cole. He is almost off work when he responds to a call he believes will be a quick check and nothing more. It sounds crazy, after all; a 911 call was made by a man who claims that a house that had been demolished the year before has mysteriously reappeared. To no one’s surprise, the routine call does not go well for Leo Cole. He goes missing, but his body cam is recovered.
The body cam makes for some unique camera work. You still get the tension of the scenes with the officer through his movements, but they are not as stilted and jarring as the handheld shaky cam that has become the hallmark of found footage. With Leo Cole’s gun drawn, it actually feels more like you are playing a first person POV game. The shot is clever, with just the circle of his flashlight illuminating the house, creating tension as you wait for something to pop out of the shadows. He sees a television on, static playing, and hits play on the attached VCR.
My absolute favourite short is the first segment, Birthday Party. The night before his birthday party, a soon-to-be eleven year-old boy sees a clown outside his house during a storm. The night escalates quickly, and managed to scare the hell out of me without a clown saying a single word. This short is subtle in how it builds to its climax, and at one point some red balloons caused me to grab my blanket and curl up in a ball. There is something about kids in horror that just instantly makes everything scarier; it’s like we remember being paralyzed because of the monster under the bed.
Surprisingly, the next best story is the common thread tale of the officer. In most anthology films, I often find the story that ties the shorts together can feel forced, or in a rush to wrap up at the end. However, the final scenes with Deputy Cole trapped inside the house were an unexpected and pleasant surprise. I loved the tension that built with each cut away from the ongoing story. Unfortunately, the other two shorts (Storm Chasers and Speak No Evil) didn’t create that same intensity for me. It felt a bit like the order could have been swapped to build up to it. However, they were still engaging and gave me a bit of time to recover from the intensity of the others.
I would also like to take a moment to point out that the packaging on this movie was clearly made with love, and a commitment to the found footage concept. The Blu-ray itself came packaged in wrap with evidence tape across the top. Opening the case revealed no title or details, only a streak of bloody fingerprints across a white disc. Inside was a letter and a missing person poster as your first introduction to the film. I personally love little details like this, which make watching a movie more of an experience.
Overall, if you are a V/H/S fan, this movie is right up your alley. The Fear Footage proves that you don’t need a ton of money to produce something entertaining and scary, just good stories and a love of the genre. While it’s not perfect, it is a brilliant mix of slow burn horror and jump scares, not relying too heavily on one or the other. This is a promising first installment and I look forward to seeing more from writer/director Ricky Umberger.