Let’s face it, found footage lost its edge roughly twenty seconds after the release of its seminal feature, The Blair Witch Project. However, that didn’t stop every opportunistic wannabe auteur from grabbing a bunch of friends, some shitty GoPros and $5,000 of their long-suffering mother’s hard-earned cash, to try and make the scariest movie of all time (usually in the local woods).
Found footage has had its day; it’s become boring, by-the-numbers, even derivative considering every flick just wants to be the next Blair Witch. Over the past decade, we’ve had demon possession, anthologies, monsters, faux-documentaries and even a tussle or two with Bigfoot–but will any of it really stand the test of time? Will we still be discussing these films in ten years, like we do with the most prominent, and best, offering?
There’s a good chance only a handful of horror fans would stand up for this flailing, overdone format. After watching cynical, blatantly agenda-pushing trash like The Devil Inside make it into theatres while true innovation such as The Innkeepers limped into the home market, we were right to be pissed off (those of us in the UK even more so). But something has changed in the past year or two Suddenly, found footage is fun again. It’s scary, fresh, and exciting.
Instead of just churning out yet another useless Paranormal Activity installment, filmmakers are going back to basics. They’re trying to do something new, something different and not just with the subject matter, but with the format itself. The following are just five of the coolest found footage flicks from 2013/2014, but there are loads of others from the past few years. So, once you’re done checking this lot out, be brave and track some more down. You might just be surprised.
Found footage was all the rage at Frightfest 2014, along with the dangers of the Internet and over-sharing of personal content, issues which were explored in the okay Elijah Wood vehicle Open Windows, and in a much more interesting capacity here. The Den‘s gimmick, so to speak (though the term itself does the material a disservice) is that all footage comes via a computer screen. As a result, it’s an incredibly inclusive, horribly claustrophobic and ultimately quite terrifying little film that ratchets up the tension so slowly, and so effectively, the ending isn’t even the relief it should be.
Blair Witch alum Eduardo Sanchez returned to the format once more (following the lacklustre Lovely Molly) with Exists, a found footage flick in which none other than Bigfoot is the Big Bad, chasing a group of twenty-somethings around the woods. Sanchez went back to basics, stripping everything away and utilising the ol’ man-in-a-suit idea to brilliant effect. The shaky-cam footage of the creature chasing a lad trying to get away as fast as he can on a bike is pulse-quickening and insanely tense. It may sound glib, but nobody knows his way around the woods like a member of the original Blair Witch crew.
A strange combination of standard issue found footage and faux doc, Ti West’s take on one of the most infamous cult-led mass suicides in history is one of the best modern horror movies of the past decade. A stunning central performance from the enigmatic Gene Jones as the so-called Father keeps the tone consistent, while ensuring the premise never feels remotely outlandish. There are some intentionally disarming moments of gore but the final sequence, in particular, truly must be seen to be believed. Regardless of how many similarly-themed movies you may have watched over the years, it will stay with you for a while.
Another outing for Bigfoot, and another faux-documentary as the fantastically-named Bobcat Goldthwaite sends a plucky husband and wife duo to document their take on the most infamous sighting of the beast ever committed to film. It’s to Goldthwaite’s credit that, thanks to a realistic chemistry between the two leads, several, well-placed interviews with genuine Bigfoot fanatics and an impeccably slow descent into terror, Willow Creek actually feels like a real documentary for most of its running time. Much like a couple of the other flicks on this list, it also saves its ace card until the final sequence.
This British shocker passed most people by with little fanfare, but those who took a chance on it found themselves more than rewarded for their curiosity. Following a couple of wisecracking buddies, tasked with filming the goings-on in a rural church that is supposedly exhibiting signs of paranormal activity, The Borderlands is one of the smartest, strangest and most unique found footage flicks you’re ever likely to see. As is customary with these kinds of films, the audience is lured into a false sense of security before everything starts to unravel. The difference is, this one boasts an ending you definitely won’t see coming.