Since then, the sub-genre has waxed and waned a few times, at least in the mainstream, as low-budget contenders come and go, with the occasional revitalizing effort keeping the concept alive. The J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield hit a solid 8 years after Blair Witch, but it was Paranormal Activity that really kept this approach on the radar. All through that time, though, Found Footage has remained a constant in the horror niche. The reasons of this are varied, but they aren't going away. The unending march of technology, social media, and our compulsion to document everything we do goes a long way towards answering one of the frequently begged questions of the sub-genre: why the hell were they filming this crap? The approach can lend a sense of verisimilitude to an otherwise hoaky concept (though let's be honest, that's still easier said than done). It's a low budget aesthetic that will continue to be a mainstay of horror cinema.
The approach doesn't come without its challenges. The aforementioned issue of motivation still remains a key question (why would you keep filming!?) For the most part, you have to be willing to cut the filmmakers a little slack when it comes to this sort of thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it emphatically does not. The handheld aesthetic, while imparting a sense of realism, is also easy to overdo. I can't think of anyone who really likes shaky cam, even if you can occasionally justify its use. Funnily enough, I think a big part of the Paranormal Activity series' success is its innovation of using a tripod through the majority of the films. Another thing this approach tends to rely on is improvised dialog, which often turns out abysmally. I think it was fine in the original Blair Witch Project (though I get that a lot of people hate it for that), but they walked a fine line in that movie, one that most found footage can't pull off.
Found Footage may not be making current waves at the box office, but it continues to be common amongst indie horror offerings and is here to stay. For this installment of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, I caught up with three lesser known examples of the sub-genre, so let's dive in:
- Willow Creek (trailer)
- The Bay (trailer)
- The Last Broadcast (trailer)
- The Poughkeepsie Tapes - The FBI discovers hundreds of video tapes in an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, NY. The tapes depict decades of a serial killer's exploits, especially focusing on one victim. Last year, whilst revisiting The Blair Witch Project, I mentioned that it was odd that most found footage movies simply consisted of the footage itself and no context, no interviews with experts, etc... Well this movie is exactly what I was talking about. It's a mock documentary that is roughly split evenly between the eponymous tapes and talking head interviews with investigators, experts, victims' family members, etc... For the most part it's an effective approach, and the film is genuinely unnerving.
- Paranormal Activity (trailer)
- Paranormal Pactivity (Robot Chicken)
- The Last Exorcism (trailer)
- Lake Mungo - A young woman disappears and her grief-stricken family begins to think she's haunting their house. Another faux documentary comprised mostly of talking head interviews and various other recordings. The proportion is more focused on the interviews than the actual footage that was found, and since all of this has clearly happened in the past, there's not much tension (and some of the footage turns out to be less reliable than originally thought, which also puts a damper on things). The video footage is mostly better here, though it's still quite unclear at times (but at least that has to do with zooming in on an image rather than the whole thing being manipulated to look poor quality).
- The Blair Witch Project (trailer)
- How the Blair Witch Project Should Have Ended (short)
- Troll Hunter (trailer)
- WNUF Halloween Special - Imagine discovering a long lost video tape of one night's local TV station's Halloween broadcast, complete with a full news program (with the anchors in costume and everything), commercials, and a "special" where a film crew enters the infamous Webber house, the site of a gruesome local legend. This is a fascinating format for a movie and a novel approach to the sub-genre. It captures the 80s-style local broadcast shockingly well. I doubt it'd really convince anyone it was real (too much of a focus on the local environs and businesses with no mention of anything else), but on the other hand, they did an astonishing job imitating the period and its tropes and excesses.