3 found-footage films you have to see.

Opinion & writing by Tony Frame

There was a point in time that every new horror film that came out was shot as a found-footage movie. I used to love the genre too; the gritty realism of it and how it paved the way for indie film-makers to make movies with a small budget, yet still allowed them the freedom to experiment with their ideas.

Then something happened…it go to the stage that everyone who had access to a smart phone, a DSLR — anything with a camera — began making them, copying The Blair Witch Project or trying to cash in as the next Paranormal Activity. The genre became infested with so many found-footage films that it got very difficult to tell the good ones from the bad ones.

And then another thing happened, the inevitable – the films became formulaic: someone goes missing or weird things start happening, they document it on camera and slowly, over time, the predicament gets worse and worse and then the final shot is the main protagonist being dragged away or murdered on camera, showing their last moments in a low angle shot.

Audiences eventually grew bored and the popularity of the genre naturally declined. Occasionally one will pop up now and again; it certainly is the favoured sub-genre for film-makers with very little money and resources.

The question is – where did found-footage films all start from? There’s a lot of debate on the internet about this, some state that the film The Connection (1961) was the first, others claim it was Cannibal Holocaust (1980). I’m sure there will be a film from the ’50s somewhere that could be classed as the first found-footage film ever made.

The resurgence of the genre probably dates back to Paranormal Activity (2007) which set the ball rolling for the surge of found-footage movies being made ever since. The budget for that film was $11,000 and it subsequently made $193.4 million in the US alone. And that was when indie film-makers all over went out to shoot their own found-footage movies – to try and cash in on the faze.

The one film that really started the genre was The Blair Witch Project (1999) which, on a budget of $60,000, went on to make a crazy box office return of $248.6 million.

Subsequently, according to IMDB trivia, the hunting season that year suffered badly because fans and film-makers all over were out shooting their own movies in the woods to cash in on The Blair Witch’s success.

But outside of the Paranormal Activity franchise, and The Blair Witch Project, if I had to recommend just three films from the found-footage genre to watch again and again then I would probably narrow it down to the following:

#1 Man Bites Dog (1992)

I consider this black and white Belgian flick a landmark in the found-footage genre. It could be argued that it is classed as a mockumentary but I believe it fits the genre of found-footage more aptly in this day and age.

Written, directed and starring Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, the film follows a serial killer as he goes on a killing spree whilst charismatically engaging with the camera crew and, at times, involving them with the murders.

The film is violent, shocking, and excels with some great dialogue and humour. It leaves you questioning your own reactions and involvement watching it and shows the true power and creative freedom that found-footage offers as a genre. If you haven’t seen it you’re in for a treat.

#2 REC (2007)

This Spanish gem of a horror film evolves around a TV reporter and her crew who are filming a documentary on the fire service and their subsequent call out to an apartment building in the city centre. The whole film takes place in the aforementioned apartment building where they, along with the fire team and the residents, come under attack from one of the other tenants.

From there things go from bad to worse when the building is placed on lock-down by the emergency services due to a potential contamination breach within the complex, meaning there is no escape for anyone – survival is the name of the game.

Chaos ensues as residents start attacking one another, displaying zombie-like behaviour, and the mystery slowly unravels as to the cause of the rabies-like outbreak. These mild spoilers don’t hamper the viewing if you’ve never seen the film before and are reading this – everything mentioned happens within the first fifteen minutes.

It’s violent and frenetic and there are literally a few jump-out-of-your-seat scares. The directors (Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza) know their horror like the back of their hands. The production values are highly polished for a found-footage film and if you suffer from claustrophobia you’ll be sweating profusely with anxiety throughout.

Manuela Velasco makes for a realistic presenter – she should, it’s her primary vocation in reality – and the horror of the situation and the consequences of it all play right up to the last minute. One to watch if you haven’t already.

#3 Noroi: The Curse (2005)

Japanese Horror, or J-Horror as it’s more commonly known as, has always been a leading force in producing experimental and innovative horror films. The most famous of their exports would probably be Ring (1998) which underwent an inferior — but still pretty decent — Hollywood remake in 2002, starring Naomi Watts.

Noroi: The Curse amplifies the same eerie unsettling ambience that was prominent in Ring. In true found-footage style, the story begins by showing us the documentary from a prominent film-maker who has disappeared just after finishing his latest project called The Curse.

We follow the film-maker’s investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, which leads him into the spooky world of psychic phenomenon and the mystery surrounding a failed ritual used to pacify an ancient demon.

A series of strange events takes the film-maker into some lesser-known locations of Japan which ultimately adds to mystique of the story. And whilst the plot is complex at times this only adds to the re-watch value in piecing together the puzzle each time you view it.

Seasoned found-footage viewers may find some of the scares and shock-factor pedestrian, but bear in mind this was one of the earliest found-footage horror films on the market before the resurgence. It’s influence on the genre set a benchmark for the subsequent flurry of films that followed throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century.

If you’re a fan of the genre you should at least give it one viewing to satisfy your curiosity as to why this is a highly-regarded J-Horror classic, and one that is unlikely to disappoint.

Also recommended:

Cloverfield (2008)

Grave Encounters (2011)

V/H/S (2012)

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