X-Geeks

A Love Letter To Found Footage Horror Films

By Ben Wright (@iamzavagno | www.xgeeks.co.uk)

When you hear the words ‘found footage’ these days, the usual reaction from film fans is a combination of an eye roll and a look of disinterest. I mean, it is an understandable reaction, especially given how saturated the ‘found footage’ horror genre has gotten over the past decade! There have been many attempts, in the past few years, to try and revive the genre, with varying degrees of success, and the genre itself now is very much at the back of audiences and filmmakers minds. But this wasn’t always the case…

Admittedly, the genre’s downfall was always going to occur. There is only so much you can do with the genre when it comes to horror. But for the mass of terrible, carbon copy movies that we’ve been subjected to, there have also been some sensational and groundbreaking movies that have had a powerful and lasting impact on the horror genre.

I have chosen eight of my favourite found footage horror movies, some of which are obvious and well known, but hopefully, you will find one or two titles listed that you haven’t heard of, therefore giving you a new film to check out this Halloween!

(Please note that, for ethical and my own personal beliefs and attitudes, some films you might expect to see are not included. I.E. Cannibal Holocaust – because f**** that movie).

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Quick Synopsis: A group of student filmmakers head into the woods to make a documentary about a local legend of a witch in the woods. The group soon get lost in the woods and are hunted by an unknown force.

The film that started it all, well, at least in modern terms of the format!

I first watched this film when I was 12 years old and, not knowing any better, I fully believed what I was watching was real. It scared me and it scared me good! That is one of the reasons I really enjoy the found footage genre, it ‘got me’ at an early age! I know for some people watching this today, the film can be thought of as a rather tame affair and not very scary. But even now, it remains one of my favourite horror movies and a film that I refuse to watch on my own or at night.

The film started out as a scary film that I loved, but when I started to understand filmmaking, it was only then that I truly appreciated the methodology and techniques used to create this movie. I think The Blair Witch Project still holds up as a great horror movie and does not get the recognition it deserves, especially in recent years.

The Blair Witch mythology became an integral part of my early teens, not only as a result of the movie but the trio of video games released in the early 00s that build upon the stories, history and characters. This property has followed me into adulthood, more recently with the release of the Blair Witch.

[REC] (2007)

Quick Synopsis: A news reporter and her cameraman follow a group of firefighters on a nightshift. They are soon called to an apartment building but upon entry, realise that there is something very wrong with the residents.

A year before I started university, Pan’s Labyrinth was released and this movie sent me down a rabbit hole of Spanish cinema. It wasn’t long after starting university that I watched [REC], a film that would soon spark a wave of groundbreaking and original Spanish horror films.

What I love most about [REC] is how up close we, the viewer, get to the story, characters and environment. It feels very personal and very real. You truly feel that you are part of the crew and this is amplified further as the tension and terror continue to build throughout the film.

If you are looking for a genuinely terrifying and claustrophobic horror, then look no further! 

The Tunnel (2011)

Quick Synopsis: A local news crew investigate the rumours that homeless people are going missing in the tunnels underneath the city. What starts off as a simple human interest piece soon turns into a nightmare as they soon realise that something is lurking in the darkness.

Not many people have probably ever heard of this low-budget Australian horror, I certainly hadn’t! I only discovered it as part of a ‘3 for £10’ deal at HMV. I bought it, not expecting much, but after watching it for the first time I soon realised that I had stumbled upon a hidden gem!

While it does include many of the found footage tropes you expect to see, these are housed within a new type of story and setting, which makes the film stand out. Interestingly, the film does not solely rely on found footage, the film is interlaced with ‘interviews’ that have been ‘filmed’ after the event of the main story. This not only brings a fresh approach to the genre but enables the filmmakers to tell two stories in one. I found this very interesting, and those who watch real-life murder documentaries will feel right at home with the format.

Oh, and for fans of Black Sails, a young Luke Arnold plays the sound engineer!

Trollhunter (2010)

Quick Synopsis: A trio of student documentary filmmakers try to track down a notorious bear poacher but instead encounter a man who has a very important mission, to protect the public from ancient creatures.

If you’re looking for found footage horror with a dark fantasy twist, then look no further than Trollhunter!

The title pretty much sums up what you can expect, but what it doesn’t tell you, is how scary yet funny this movie is. While it is not an outright dark-comedy, it does have subtle dark and blunt humour moments. The film contains various cross-genre elements that are seamlessly blended together.

The visual and story tones of the movie are outstanding and if you like folklore and ancient customs or rituals as part of your horror fix, then you will be spoilt for choice in this film. It’s an interesting and refreshing horror film that should definitely be enjoyed in its original subtle format, and not dubbed – you listening, Netflix?

Grave Encounters (2011)

Quick Synopsis: A group of paranormal investigators are filming the latest episode of their reality TV ghost hunting show inside an abandoned psychiatric hospital. With not much happening, the team decide to call it a night, but very quickly they soon discover that the hospital and its long-dead inhabitants have other plans for them.

Another hidden, low-budget, gem from the ‘3 for £10’ line!

While the film is far from groundbreaking and definitely not an original concept, it perfectly executes all the found footage genre tropes to great effect. While the film is pretty much textbook, it is done in a way that is not detrimental to the film itself. It’s a nice, solid example of horror filmmaking on a low-budget but still delivering in terms of story and scares.

It might look cheap and tacky, but working that into the Reality TV narrative of the story, the film itself is well worth your time!

The Sacrament (2013)

Quick Synopsis: A man receives a letter from his sister, who he hasn’t seen in years, inviting him to join her at a secret and remote community setup by an elusive and mysterious leader. Joined by his friend, a reporter and his cameraman colleague, the group sets out to uncover the truth about this ‘utopia’ and get more than they bargained for.

I’m a big fan of Ti West as a horror director, so I was always intrigued when it was announced that he would be taking the helm of a found footage horror. He’s great at creating unsettling horror, so to transfer this into found footage with a script based on the Jonestown Massacre was very appealing.

The film is a definite slow burner, but all the signs are subtly layered from the beginning and as the film builds towards its climax, all these subtleties pay off. The Sacrament is extremely unsettling at times and you stubble into the final act you will be asking yourself many questions. Less is definitely more in The Sacrament and the camerawork is truly something else! 

The Visit (2015)

Quick Synopsis: A pair of teenage siblings are sent to stay with their grandparents, who they have never met, for a week. They decide to document the trip with a camera and quickly realises something isn’t right, capturing footage of strange events and terrifying encounters.

The movie that started the M. Night Shyamalan comeback tour!

I had very low expectations when I went to watch this movie at the cinema. M. Night was coming off the back of a host of flops and his standing as a top director and storyteller was being questioned. But he answered his critics and then some, with this super chilling take on ‘a weekend at Grandma’s house’. 

The first major appeal is that our two protagonists are kids. Not documentary filmmakers or students, but children. That already gives the movie an unsettling edge, nothing bad could happen to the children, right? While the film leans heavily on elements of Hansel and Gretel, sometimes very literally, the story itself feels pretty original. The film doesn’t rely too heavily on jump scares but more the unsettling atmosphere that continues to build throughout the movie.

The Bay (2012)

Quick Synopsis: The residents of a small seaside town fall victim to a strange illness and it is up to a local news reporter and researchers to try and discover what is happening to the population and why the hospitals are soon overflowing with patients acting very strangely.

Maybe not one to watch during the midst of a global pandemic, but nevertheless The Bay is an Eco-horror that is well worth your time. The subject matter, supplementing the horror with thriller and science fiction elements, has a cross genre appeal so it helps the movie stand out among its peers.

The film takes itself very seriously, and it’s the earnest performances and potential reality of the story that really drives home the severity of the situation, which rubs off on the audience. This could very well happen and the film does not hold its punches, with no character or character type ever protected by plot armour. From the old to the young, the virus does not care and having your antagonist as a virus, rather than ghosts or a masked killer, that unpredictability and lack of agenda makes for a fascinating and compelling watch.

So there you have it, my favourite found footage horror movies! Do you have any movies to add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

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