Diary of the Dead
While the first prominent examples of Found Footage emerged before the turn of the Millennium (most notably Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, The Last Broadcast in 1998, and The Blair Witch Project in 1999), this subgenre gained prominence as a distinctly 21st Century phenomena. The events of 9/11, and the way these tragedies were being reported in their immediate aftermath, changed not only what we find terrifying, but also how we process fear. Suddenly, the idea that disaster could strike at any moment, forcing unsuspecting citizens to become de-facto documentarians, resonated through our shell-shocked society; Found Footage became the perfect medium for stoking and addressing our post-9/11 anxieties.
The films below represent the best examples of Found Footage horror movies. Whether you consider yourself a fan of this subgenre or not, a well-made Found Footage movie can be just as compelling and urgent as anything produced in a more traditional cinematic format. If you’re on the fence, these movies might just turn you into a fan.
Home Movie (2009)
Director: Christopher Denham
Writer: Christopher Denham
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Amber Joy Williams |
If Home Movie had been released before The Blair Witch Project in 1999, I believe it would have set the benchmark for outstanding Found Footage horror much higher: Blair Witch is, in fact, downright clunky and amateurish by comparison. The seemingly happy Poe Family from Upstate New York inadvertently documents a shared descent into hell in the home movies they produce. This film features some of the creepiest kids in all of horror, and some truly brilliant acting from Adrian Pasdar and Cady McLain as the parents of bad seeds Jack and Emily (played by real-life brother & sister Austin and Amber Williams).
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Stars: Mike Vogel, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan |
At a time when the appeal of Found Footage movies had a lot to do with the fact that they were comparatively inexpensive to produce, Paramount Pictures changed the game in 2008 by making Cloverfield on a whopping budget of $25 million. The investment paid off in spades; not only did Cloverfield gross over $170 million worldwide, it was a hit with fans and critics alike. More than any other film in the subgenre, Cloverfield plays like a direct reimagining of the events of 9/11.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Stars: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts |
The Redheaded Stepchild of George A. Romero’s Living Dead Franchise is actually an outstand example of both the Zombie and Found Footage subgenres. Diary of the Dead is also top-notch satire aimed at media-obsessed Millennials, best summed up in a single line: “If it didn’t happen on camera, it’s like it didn’t happen, right?”. While some Romero fans refuse to even acknowledge Living Dead chapters that came after Part 3 (Day of the Dead), Diary of the Dead is better than its reputation, and certainly outshines Land of the Dead and Survival of the Dead (the Romero movies that proceeded and followed it).
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró, Luiso Berdejo, 1 more credit »
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano |
In addition to being an amazing example of Found Footage, the Spanish film REC is a unique hybrid of outbreak and possession horror. The use of night-vision during the film’s uber-suspenseful climax is masterful. The sequel, REC 2 released in 2009 is one of those rare follow-ups that really does the original justice, delivering intensity and innovation. The 3rd and 4th installments in the REC franchise abandoned the Found-Footage presentation of their predecessors—and were nowhere near as well received. Coincidence?
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writers: Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland
Stars: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr |
The Eli Roth produced film about demonic possession, The Last Exorcism, is outstanding Found Footage filmmaking and deeply ironic story-telling. The tale of an admitted charlatan of a spiritualist documenting his “last exorcism” as a mea culpa for past deceptions ends up proving the phenomena it sets out to debunk. This film sports an excellent script, great acting, and a powerful climax. Part 2, which is not presented as Found Footage, was a big disappointment.
Europa Report (2013)
Director: Sebastián Cordero
Writer: Philip Gelatt
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Christian Camargo|
The best horror movie of 2013 was, in my opinion, the Found Footage space odyssey Europa Report. The film uses documentary style interviews, along with archived video logs and security footage to create a taut and claustrophobic saga that stretches years. The only thing more frightening than the extreme isolation and likelihood of death is the frigid, hostile emptiness that surrounds the crew of interplanetary cosmonauts. Would you be able to complete the mission—even if all hope of returning home had faded?
Director: Chris Peckover
Writers: Chris Peckover, Joe Peterson
Stars: Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Yancey Arias |
I’ve always felt that Undocumented never got the accolades it deserves, perhaps suffering from the blatant political agenda it wears on its sleeve. A team of documentarians following Mexican migrants illegally crossing the US Border runs afoul of a gang of anti-immigration rouge “patriots” acting without government oversight. These send-ups of modern “Minutemen” don’t simply repel migrants; rather they take them hostage, enslaving them in an underground compound of horrors. Forced into an uneasy alliance with their captors, the filmmakers must reconcile their instincts towards self-preservation with their responsibility to protect the migrants—and their own humanity.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Director: Adam Robitel
Writers: Gavin Heffernan, Adam Robitel
Stars: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang |
One of the best films of 2014, The Taking of Deborah Logan, is an outstanding example of Found Footage and one of the scariest possession movies ever made. Jill Larson is brilliant and unnerving as the titular lead Deborah Logan, a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease—and something even more insidious; her ability to fluctuate between scared old lady and terrifying aggressor keeps the audience on pins and needles throughout. The film’s conclusion has one of the best WTF moments in recent memory—an image likely to remain seared into your brain for ages.
Devil’s Pass (2013)
Director: Renny Harlin
Writer: Vikram Weet
Stars: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright |
Part of what makes Devil’s Pass so captivating is that it’s based on a real (if lesser known) incident that has fascinated paranormal researchers in Europe and Asia for decades; a team of college students from Oregon travels to the Ural Mountains in Russia, looking for clues in the unexplained deaths of 9 skiers back in 1959 (referred to as The Dyatlov Pass Incident). The film manages to incorporate just about every aspect of this modern myth, creating a lively and unnerving experience. Great pacing and FX that go far beyond what is typically expected in Found Footage make this a crowd pleaser that will satisfy fans of horror, sci-fi, and straight-up action.
Alien Abduction (2014)
Director: Matty Beckerman
Writer: Robert Lewis
Stars: Katherine Sigismund, Corey Eid, Riley Polanski |
Some filmmakers opt to make a Found Footage movie because they are comparatively less expensive to produce than more traditional cinema; unfortunately these efforts often fall short. Other filmmakers chose Found Footage because they realize it’s a medium that can enhance and strengthen the right kind of story: Alien Abduction is one of the latter types of movies, one that definitely benefits from its Found Footage presentation. Based on real accounts of “The Brown Mountain Lights” in North Carolina, Alien Abduction is non-pretentious yet terrifyingly effective; the tunnel scene gave me heart palpitations! A more straightforward presentation might have felt cheesy or clichéd, but as Found Footage, Alien Abduction is stunning.
The Taking of Deborah Logan
What are some of your favorite Found Footage movies? Let me know in the comments section!
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