There is a slight stigma attached to the found footage genre, mostly down to just how saturated the market is with films using this style. It seems that a week cannot go by without seeing a paranormal haunting or night in the woods being caught on tape hitting the shelves of your local supermarket. The handheld, this is real/no its not, form of filmmaking many suggest has become more an annoyance than terrifying experience nowadays. However among all the cheap knock offs and cash-ins, there are a fair amount of genuinely excellent found footage films. These movies have either stood out as landmark successes of the genre or aspired to do something different. So feast your eyes and lens on the 15 best found footage movies, to coincide the release of Afflicted on DVD (which is reviewed right here):
15. The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)
Renny Harlin’s UK-Russian backed Horror, based on the real life 1959 unexplained death of seven skiers in the Ural Mountains in Russia, is undeniably fantastical but still fascinating. Harlin’s film is realistic for long enough until the script kicks into Sci-Fi gear come the ambitious- if a bit gratuitous finish. Still The Dyatlov Pass Incident (also known as Devil’s Pass) has perfect grounds for a Horror flick and offers some fantastic location cinematography and even if it doesn’t quite come off as well as it could, there is ambition here to be sure and fun aplenty.
14. V/H/S series (2012-now)
This anthology series started with style in 2012 and saw many found footage segments strung together to form a great example of what independent Horror is capable of. The third film, VHS: Viral, is released this year and while many may grow tired of the series’ tenacious madness, it is hard to argue that some segments have been super in this series. Gareth Evans’ Safe Haven (from the admittedly disappointing V/H/S/2) for instance or Radio Silence’s 10/31/98. There is undeniable mileage from a film series like V/H/S, which allows directors/writers creative freedom and can rejuvenate a well-worn genre in the process.
13. Willow Creek (2013)
Bobcat Goldthwaite’s Bigfoot movie earlier this year finally was the film to give us a standout Sasquatch flick. From the film’s blending of real facts and early mockumentary vibe to the ambiguous climax, Willow Creek was a slow burning work of brilliance. Well acted, with much improvised dialogue and an excellent payoff to the building plotline. Fair enough Goldthwaite doesn’t reinvent the wheel here but his film offers a darkly comic and eventually rather dark and disturbing approach to the Bigfoot myth.
12. The Conspiracy (2013)
It is hard to think of a film that was better suited to its format than The Conspiracy, a film that offers an interesting narrative married with a truly terrifying closing third. Rooted in the conspiracist theories of the real world Christopher McBride’s mockumentary of two filmmakers who look into the disappearance of a conspiracy theorist is intriguing, raw and (come the striking climax) absent of empathy in the same manner as films like Ben Wheatley’s The Kill List and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man.
11. The Bay (2013)
Barry Levinson (who helmed Good Morning Vietnam) directed this rather excellent eco-viral found footage Thriller, which had many a message about the environmental turmoil of the modern world. After the disappointing Contagion, The Bay was a relief to witness and felt well directed and pandemically entertaining. Levinson’s film had a brain as well as a gooey and lactating grossness and was pretty underrated upon release last year.
10. The Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Infamous in its authenticity and legendary in its legacy, this previously banned (and still banned in its uncut form in many places) landmark of the video nasty era of Horror needs mentioning when it comes to the development of the found footage genre. The plot essentially riffs on the idea of finding footage, which contains horrific content. From impaling, real life onscreen animal cruelty, sexual assault and foetal mutilation, Ruggero Deodato’s Italian controversial cult classic is the very definition of no holds barred filmmaking. The makers even went to trial over the legitimacy of what was shown.
9. Afflicted (2013)
The very film we are celebrating with this feature, itself belongs on the list. Clif Prowse and Derek Lee’s found footage vampiric delight, injects the genre with some much-needed adrenaline. Blending a great plot and characters, with innovative shooting and action-heavy gory thrills. Afflicted is indeed a recent highlight of the genre and knocks seven shades out of many mainstream vampire films, as well as those found footage horrors that make more money (but as we all know money isn’t everything- cough cough The Devil Inside).
8. The Borderlands (2013)
Tired of seeing all these movies have hateful characters and no brain? Well please draw your attention to Elliot Goldner’s brilliantly acted, chilling and Lovecraftian church-centric Horror. There is a humorous vibe that punctuates this film and despite the polarising ending (which is open to interpretation), this should please many a genre fan, tired of the boring baggage this genre is capable of containing. The Borderlands is both a nifty British Horror and a film that dissects modern faith and how narrow the realms of good and evil really are.
7. Paranormal Activity (2009-now)
The most financially outstanding films on this list may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is admirable to see how this series has rendered its own narrative mythology. Oren Peli’s first film is considered the best of the series, although the sequel is a bit better and the third film is the best of the series. Paranormal Activity 3 set before the events of 1 and 2 is a fantastic film, which boasts scares, well constructed scenes and more realistic characters. Sadly Paranormal Activity 4 and this year’s Latino spin-off The Marked Ones were marked step downs for the series, maybe next year’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension will offer something that reinvigorates the saga.
6. Chronicle (2012)
Josh Trank’s superb found footage debut flick Chronicle essentially asks one question: What would you do if you achieved super powers? Well the answers vary in this brilliant film that tackles both the unbridled ambition and personal angst (as a result of being an outsider in school and at home) of one young man, Andrew (played brilliantly by Dane DeHaan). The plot blends science fiction with Drama but on a personal scale, the camera being an insight into the mind of the protagonist. “With great power, comes great responsibility”…until someone pisses you off, then you get an ending with more action and devastation than an F5 tornado. Chronicle is a star of the genre.
5. [Rec] series (2007-now)
Jaume Balaguéro and Paco Plaza’s 2007 Spanish Horror hit [Rec] is a terrifying, raw, brutal and classic zombie story, with one of the most unexpectedly haunting endings in recent memory. It’s 2009 sequel [Rec 2], is ambitiously plotted, twisty and brutal and takes things to a very unpredicted level. Sadly Plaza’s disappointing Rec 3: Genesis lets the series down, with an unworking blend of Horror and Comedy and the bizarre decision (considering the title) to scrap the found footage style, which is at odds with both itself and the series. Still with Rec 4: Apocalypse on the way and with the classic status of the first two in Horror history we can all just pretend Genesis was a bad dream. The [Rec] series shows Hollywood just how you do raw, visceral, kinetic, horror and do it bloody well.
4. Cloverfield (2008)
Matt Reeves’ superbly entertaining monster movie Cloverfield, is a realistic view of how we would react to a kaiju attack. Cloverfield not only brought viewers into the carnage but it defined the monster movie genre for the 2000s, before the likes of Pacific Rim and Godzilla have since taken things to an even bigger levels in the 2010s. Cloverfield drew some criticism for its highly chaotic shaky cam style but in the midst of this carnage (helped by some great build up) it is understandable. Cloverfield is engrossing stuff indeed on the big screen.
3. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is the granddaddy of the genre and the movie that thousands have since tried (and failed) to replicate. The Blair Witch Project emphasised the less is more approach to movie making and by showing audiences practically nothing, toyed with the two greatest fears there are: the fear of the dark and the fear of the unknown. The realistic shooting from directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, fooled many viewers upon release, as did the film’s (earlier example of) viral marketing, which declared the film’s story as a very real one. To this day, the restrained and yet powerful final scene is enough to send a shiver up the spine.
2. Troll Hunter (2011)
André Øvredal’s Norwegian masterpiece is a film that simply demands to be seen. Even now there is really nothing else like Troll Hunter in existence. The film sees a student group follower what they believe to be a poacher but he ends up being a hunter of far more mythical prey. This delicious blend of mad entertainment, dark comedy and thrilling mythology, makes for one hell of a unique movie experience. The realism is not really a factor here, so much as the story, tribute to Norse myths and comment on the ways of the world being hidden from the public eye by authority. Troll Hunter is massive fun and one of the best uses of the genre on record.
1. Lake Mungo (2008)
This mockumentary by Joel Anderson is far more than a paranormal story; it is a bleak tale of destiny destroying us and is as unpredictable as it gets. Lake Mungo from the start has a gripping, poetic, power to it and the film refuses to let up on the mystery until the soul-bothering conclusion. This is every bit as much a Drama as it is a Horror and with its ambiguous morals and twists, it leaves you with questions and thoughts days after the first viewing. The film could well have been rote or cliché ridden, with a mockumentary set up being very familiar in found footage but Lake Mungo’s emotionally shattering intensity and provocative story, leaves you with a masterful assessment of human fate and thought.