The Top Five Found Footage and Faux Documentary Films
Found footage/faux documentary films have become insanely popular over the course of the last decade, some made with big budgets and familiar faces, others on kite string budgets with whomever the director/producers could convince to help out. However, budget means very little in this horror subgenre because, when it comes down to it, what really matters is the effect the film has on the audience. Paranormal Activity was made for a reported $11,000 in seven days, but the bone chilling practical effects in the film have made it a cultural phenomenon and spawned, to date, three equally creepy sequels.
One of the main reasons these films have been so successful is because of the morbid nature that is base idea of the subgenre: watching people live out supposedly real life horrors and our natural, voyeuristic desire to witness said events. I fully admit to being such a person; when a found footage film is done properly, I really believe it possesses a factor that elevates the level of fear in the audience because we want the fiction to be reality, and for 90 minutes we accept what we’re watching as a visual record of real events.
5. Apollo 18
In one of the highest budgeted found footage films made to date, we follow the crew of Apollo 18 on a secret mission to the moon. This movie is great in concept, but was lacking a bit in execution. Oddly enough, what really hurts this flick is the high quality of production. Footage from the seventies should not be as clear and clean as it is here. Even the occasional “transmission static” is unnatural and ineffective. However, the historical nature, injection of Cold War era espionage, and aliens/moon rock creatures make the movie entertaining enough to forgive the fact that the film was made too well.
V/H/S offers an experimental take on the found footage film by styling itself as an anthology of sorts. A group of friends, who happened to be terrible people and aspiring criminals, are hired to steal a VHS tape from a secluded house. After they break into the house they find an abundance of tapes and, not knowing what they’re looking for, begin to view them at random (mind you, these guys are recording this with a video camera of their own). On the tapes they watch are home videos of murders, monsters, and unexplained phenomena shot by the people who witnessed or were victims in said tapes. Not all of the shorts are great, and those that were probably deserved to be longer, but all in all this is a well executed film that will stick with you and cause you to avoid VCRs for a long time (if, in fact, you still own or know where to find one).
3. Paranormal Activity 3
In this sequel/prequel to the absurdly successful Paranormal Activity we get to see how it all began. Taking place in the childhood home of the characters/sisters Katie and Kristi as they begin their lifelong torment by a malevolent spirit. Like its predecessors, this film is shot with stationary (with the exception of the fan-cam) cameras around a home in the hopes of capturing the source of the strange night time occurrences. This film, unlike its predecessors, has a guaranteed creepiness factor: little kid (girl in this case) talking to an imaginary friend. Besides that, one can expect the typical closing doors, people being tugged out of bed and furniture shifting of the first two. But, Paranormal Activity 3 still offers plenty of terrifying moments and reminds us that bumps in the night aren’t always easy to dismiss.
One of my personal favorite found footage films, this Spanish language horror film is chilling. Shot as a news report, following TV reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) as they tag along with a group of firemen on what is supposed to be a routine emergency call. However, what transpires is a claustrophobia inducing story as they are quarantined in an apartment building whose tenants begin to change into violent maniacs. Shot with just one camera, the film offers a unique first person perspective where the viewer is made to feel as if they’re there, trying to survive along with the characters in the film.
An American remake was made almost shot for shot and is titled Quarantined. It’s not awful, but it’s nowhere near as good as the original.
1. The Blair Witch Project
This is one of those films that people either love or hate, and I happen to be one of the former. Even if you are one of the latter, it’s hard to deny the huge impact this film has had, not only in the horror genre, but on the industry as a whole. Made on a shoe string budget and marketed as a record of real events, The Blair Witch Project went on to be one of the biggest success stories in Hollywood; inspiring a new generation of filmmakers, teaching that with a strong story and a properly executed concept, it’s possible to make a film that will haunt people for years.