Found Footage Horror Must Die! Or maybe not… The Horror watching world has seen its share of enduring tropes, subgenres, effects techniques and stereotypes, but none more divisive than the found footage style that has inundated the genre since the early 2000’s following the success of the Blair Witch Project and, more recently, Paranormal Activity. If you love them, you search for the good ones, watching countless low budget, shaky cam video diaries, faux documentaries and house parties gone wrong trying to find the gem. If you hate them, you’re theatrical Horror enjoyment has plummeted in the month of October due to the backing of the P.A. franchise. You’re surrounded by them. There’s a new one every goddamn month, and frankly, you’re getting tired of the style because there’s a distinct lack of novelty in a large percentage of the style. So the style must die. That’s the answer.
My friends, if we have learned anything from our beloved Horror genre we cannot kill the boogeyman.
Found Footage and its sister shooting style Point of View (POV) as well as intra-camera footage usage (think security cameras or other similar perspectives) should not die, will not die and will continue to be the preferred shooting style of independent Horror artists who cannot afford to shoot film, who cannot afford a new HD Red One camera or simply want to make a movie for the first time with minimal training. Of course there are plenty of these movies that are made by competent filmmakers who spend their kitty to truly make their releases shine. Let us not discount that there are films that use the aforementioned shooting styles to great success and with prowess. So you say that you’d like to see the demise of the style, it probably won’t happen, but perhaps going back to one of the first found footage movies will ease your mind as to the effectiveness and viability of the style, the reason the style should continue. We are talking about Cannibal Holocaust.
Before The Blair Witch Project set records for its budgetary minimalism compared to its gross domestic slaughter of the box office, Cannibal Holocaust created such a stir that Director Ruggero Deodato landed in jail because of its effectiveness. We’re talking about one of the pivotal Italian cannibal films that created gorehounds, turned stomachs and has been one of the rites of passage of young fiends for over thirty years. The movie features plenty of found footage that drives the story, is shot well and looks cinematic. I only make this point to show that the style of shooting can yield a movie that looks professional, that feels like a movie and not a cellphone and can capture intense emotions even in its awkward jerkiness.
The style of shooting and conveying a story has roots in great filmmaking and with some practice can be used in that same way again. Whether you’ve enjoyed some of the more recent efforts or not that employ this style, we all can acknowledge that there is room for improvement or at least there is a need for a wholesale reexamination of what it means to use this style. Perhaps it is more important to understand what we should not sacrifice as a result of using a style of storytelling that may offer budgetary leniency at the cost of production value. We should look for films that employ this device with great care toward preserving the economy of what is put on the screen.
Yes, you can cut some corners by using your HD bloggie to make a movie, but if you haven’t lit your scene properly, no one will be able to see what you’ve crafted. Your low budget film has special effects and you’ve saved money on film by not using it and decided to follow the protagonists as if someone were preserving a video diary record. There’s a monster in your movie. Make sure you take the time to craft the monster (not money… time) and forget the masks at Party City. If you’re using a homicidal madman as your killer, make sure he or she isn’t ordinary. Make sure you have actors and a script. Yes, your POV thriller needs to have a script. No one wants to follow your crew through a mental institution without motivation, back story or narrative beyond the horror amusement ride.
Before you say, “not another found footage movie”, perhaps try to keep an open mind. Explore the plot, see who’s directing the damn thing, doing the effects, acting in it. Does it have a great writer? Maybe there’s a reason why it will differentiate itself from the dirge of copycats and novice filmmakers who were lucky enough to get a deal. The first way to be a Horror fan is to watch Horror movies. We give movies a chance. We also use our brains to make educated, informed decisions about films. Simply going to see a found footage picture when you know you hate found footage movies without trying to keep an open mind will probably result in a reinforcement of your hate of the style and even a disgust with the genre at large. Pick your movies. Dip your toe into the genre in a new place in the pond every so often, but don’t jump in head first without checking the water temperature or depth.
Found Footage isn’t going to die save for a lack of interest by horror fans that results in the box office numbers or profit margins going down. Given the inexpensive nature of the films, it might be some time before we see the wave pull back. Even then it will only be for a short period of time. The style will join the great wheel of subgenres and stereotypes that spin around and come back almost cyclically. Perhaps figuring out places where your taste and found footage meet might be a more productive than to group together and judge an entire faction of an industry for some of the lower lying fruit.
Thanks to Quiltface Studios for inspiring me to want to write something positive and The B-Movie Film Vault for giving me my first topic.