Found footage movie have exploded in popularity in the last decade. Although the concept has existed since the 1970s, it has enjoyed a more recent resurgence thanks to its success in the horror genre. Horror filmmakers have used the concept in inventive and exciting ways, and found footage can be used to showcase all types of horror creations.
10. V/H/S 2 (2013)
Anthology movies are a staple of the horror genre, so it was almost inevitable that a found footage version of the format would be made. The first V/H/S proved that a movie which comprised of four short stories (plus a wraparound story tying them together and acting as an intermission between each one) was the perfect way to use condensed found footage to great effect, but the movie ultimately suffered from having a few too many disappointing entries. V/H/S 2 was a huge improvement on the formula, and each story was an ingenious example of how to use found footage. Some of the movie’s highlights include a zombie story which uses a helmet cam for a first person perspective inspired by video games and a crazed cult which culminates in an insane, unpredictable ending.
9. Cloverfield (2008)
Few could have predicted that a big budget, Kaiju-inspired monster movie would ever work as found footage, but the filmmakers of Cloverfield achieved exactly that. Cloverfield’s box office and critical success made it directly responsible for boosting the popularity of the found footage genre, and the hurried, manic camerawork wracks up the tension and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. By focusing on a small group of people fighting to survive and escape the carnage, Cloverfield was able to perfectly balance the huge scenes of city-wide panic and destruction while still keeping the audience interested and involved in the characters. Also, Cloverfield gave an actual reason for the constant filming. Although the issue is approached with a single line of dialogue (the cameraman says “People need to see this, you know? It’s gonna be important. People are going to watch this.”), it is more thought than most modern found footage movies give to the concept, and it goes a long way in helping the audience suspend their disbelief and believe what is happening onscreen.
8. Lake Mungo (2008)
Combining a documentary style with elements of found footage, Lake Mungo is a surprisingly realistic take on a typical ghost story. Following a family who experiences strange events after 15 year old daughter Alice drowns in mysterious circumstances, the movie drip feeds the audience with small bits of information and builds up the tension with twists and revelations. Relying on psychological horror instead of cheap jump scares, Lank Mungo’s mobile phone recorded finale is one of the creepiest scenes in the found footage genre.
7. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Controversial French movie Man Bites Dog is a mix of mockumentary dark comedy and found footage. Made on a shoestring budget, Man Bites Dog has become a cult classic over the years, and its central premise is one of the few horror found footage movies which features a serial killer. Its pitch black humour and detached, calm shooting style is a far cry from the modern ‘shaky cam’ aesthetic, and the movie’s violence is still shocking to this day. In one of its most controversial scenes, serial killer Ben smothers a young boy and then coerces the rest of the film crew into participating in the violence by helping him kill the rest of the family.
6. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Slasher movies have always followed the same formula. They typically focus on the victims while the villain lurks around in the background, and then the slasher only really appears when somebody needs to be killed. Although more recent reboots and remakes like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th have spent more time on the origin stories of some of cinema’s most iconic slashers, the movies still give little screen time to these characters. In an interesting twist, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon switches all the attention to the title role. Offering a behind the scenes look at the slasher genre, Behind the Mask is a quirky, interesting horror parody which charts the rise of a new slasher villain and shows how he plots his murders and what makes him tick. Although the movie ditches the found footage concept during its final act, it’s an inventive and unique use of the concept which doesn’t feel gimmicky.
5. REC 2 (2009)
Spanish zombie horror REC 2 is an interesting sequel which breaks new ground in the found footage genre. The sequel not only takes place literally seconds after the event of the first movie (which doesn’t happen often in horror sequels), but it also switches perspectives between different sets of characters as the story progresses. This allows REC 2 to escape the typical constraints of the found footage concept, and it gives the movie much more scope and avoids some of the more frustrating pitfalls of the genre (for example, the movie doesn’t have to worry about forcing the character holding the camera into the action as there are two different sets of characters each with their own camera). The movie itself is a fresh spin on zombie lore as it adds an interesting religious/spiritual element to the undead while still grounding the story in reality.
4. Paranormal Activity (2007)
The first Paranormal Activity was another big inspiration for the recent revival of found footage horror movies. The simple story – a young married couple set up cameras when they suspect spooky happenings in their new home – uses the domestic environment to great effect. Everyone has experienced the fright of hearing a bump in the night, and the movie uses this primitive fear for some excellent scares. Although its sequels have stretched the concept and confused the series with an over complicated story, the original is still one of the best examples of how found footage can be used for subtle, creepy scares.
3. Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Another found footage movie which focuses on a serial killer, The Poughkeepsie Tapes has a very interesting format. The mockumentary details the story of a fictional serial who has left behind 800 videotapes of himself stalking and murdering victims. These found tapes are spliced with interview footage of victims who have escaped from the killer, and the whole movie has a very disturbing, authentic feel. Somewhat ironically, the movie’s failed release also contributes to its creepy vibe and cult status. The Poughkeepsie Tapes was never shown theatrically and it isn’t available on DVD, although it was originally intended for a cinema release and it was advertised quite extensively. This underground legacy helps the movie feel real, and it’s easier for the audience to believe that this really could be the found footage of an unknown serial killer.
2. Troll Hunter (2010)
Some horror movies are happy to follow the formula and choose from ‘stock’ creatures like zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc. Troll Hunter gladly defies this convention by featuring underused and sometimes corny creatures – trolls – and making them credible, threatening horror legends. Troll Hunter is another excellent example of a found footage movie which gives thought to why its characters are filming their actions and how the footage came to be ‘found’. Most movies ask the audience to blindly buy into the concept of found footage, but Troll Hunter gives a valid reason why the footage could exist in the first place. It’s a small detail, but it helps the movie seem more real and believable even when it features giant trolls the size of a building roaming around the woods.
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is one of the biggest success stories of modern cinema. Made on a tiny budget of $22,000 dollars, the movie made more than $240 million at the box office. It was a huge phenomenon and became one of the most popular horror movies ever made. However, it’s also the most important movie in the found footage genre. Prior to the movie’s release, the filmmakers created a website dedicated to the legend of the Blair Witch where they spread disinformation on the message boards claiming that the ‘students’ were still missing. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine the impact this cheap, guerrilla advertising campaign had on people, but this was a time when viral marketing wasn’t everywhere. Internet users weren’t suspicious of every little thing they read about online, and many were convinced that the movie really was some found footage depicting the last few days of these students. Many audiences genuinely believed that The Blair Witch Project was real, and it’s almost impossible to imagine that any other found footage movie made today could have that same effect on people.