It's a love-hate genre. Often most people can't stomach the shaky camera movements long enough to finish the film whilst others more or less just despise their existence. However, as I said with the Torture Porn sub-genre (that has basically fallen asleep now thanks to these) it'll one day be looked back on like the slasher genre, maybe not as loved but remembered as a part of horror no less. Art reflects the current flow of the world, the same reason we've been seeing a rush of End of Ze World films is the same reason we've been seeing a slew of Found Footage films in the past few years; it's what our culture is reflecting. Our lives are rapidly lapsing into a technologically dominant society (which could be good or bad, we'll see how it turns out) and its inevitable that smartphones and facebook are seeping their way into film's plots. With the Found Footage films approaching them as real-life captures of horror instills doubt initially, but as the film goes on you start to second guess it and then you find yourself on Google trying to decipher the fact from the fiction. Or maybe you just sit there with your arms crossed and hate them all the way through, but to each his own. Whichever is your preference is for watching them here are my Top Five Found Footage Films (thus far):
Cannibal Holocaust falls low on this list because it wasn't approached as real, but it uses the same stylized camera movements found in the sub-genre and there are very real images in it. For that Cannibal Holocaust is really less remembered as a prerequisite for the sub-genre and more as a force of its own. It's a sonnet of human brutality, with an explicit honesty that is harsh to the viewers' tolerance. It's bigger than the genre because it is simply a fantastic exploitation film with a highly iconic image of horror and it existed before the time of the internet. There isn't quite a film like it. But less of why its great in itself and more as to why it's a good found footage film. Despite a misconception on most Cannibal Holocaust has a well thought concept about a couple of filmmakers who's found footage reveals the final moments of their lives as they document a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon. The film depicts violent, primitive, and often sadistic acts by the tribe and of the filmmakers, asking who's really the savage and who isn't. The graphic brutality of the real animal killings is about as close as its get to real without being snuff and has a strong effect when watching. Its a manifesto for cannibal films, a still to this day taboo watch, and among many other notaries it is also one of the first incarnations of the found footage genre. Cannibal Holocaust is a horror-must, found footage or not.
#4 Troll Hunter (2010)
At the risk of using the patter most commonly spoken by cant-speaking tweenagers, Troll Hunter is pretty legit. Its hard to imagine that a film that is not only a found footage entry but a documentary on the secret world of hunting trolls got a lot of recognition and praise. Of course though if you see Troll Hunter you can understand why because it really is that good. Not only original, exciting, and dare I say epic? Troll Hunter is a strong foreign film that only the Norweigns can pull off with the same seriousness and ease. It follows a group of filmmakers who in trying to expose a bear poacher instead find the best kept secret of trolls walking among us and meet the man who single-handedly takes them down at night. Hans is up there with the great movie monster hunters, including Van Helsing, Quinn from Jaws, and Daryl from The Walking Dead and worthily earns his spot. As does Troll Hunter on the any found footage list.
#3 Grave Encounters (2011)
The mock paranormal documentary with the combined found footage film style is a fresh and logical piece in the tired sub-genre. A satirical take off the paranormal investigation shows that frequent the basic cable channels it follows a cynical television crew through an old asylum that in turn is really haunted. The latter findings generate a generous portion of old fashioned jumpy scares and creepy moments to make your spine shiver. It has this haunted house quality about it which I loved, where the set design and sound tech made the viewer feel as if the characters were walking through a haunted maze of sorts. Echos off the walls and the distorted sanity plays thick in a place where the halls and rooms change to their own pleasing and guide the characters where they choose, often to their deaths or worse. Grave Encounters is also rather funny, which is always a good bit of relief when your locked in an abandon asylum. Avoid the wannabe-meta sequel that replaces the cleverness of the first with a snarky lead and weak script. Watch the first for original scares with good laughs, and as champion of the sub-genre.
#2 Lake Mungo (2008)
Out of all the films on this list I'll give that Lake Mungo is by far the most convincing film in it's documentary style approach. It utilizes the lighting, angels, and tone of television-like documentaries giving you an impression that what you see could be very real. There isn't reenactments, and Alice's weird happenings aren't caught by her vocal friend lugging around a hand held. Instead photos, interviews, and crappy home movies are shown to give you a sense that Alice lead a dark life that ultimately led to her early death. What it leaves you with? A surreal creepiness that may keep you up at night.
#1 Paranormal Activity (2007)
Haters will hate with this one (for the next 20 years no doubt) but Paranormal Activity is without a doubt the best found footage film. It's simplistic and in that the most effective at being convincing. I'm not a fan of the series, as I've said before, but I admire and respect the first film for it's technical ploys more so than it's plot and character anomalies. As a whole I do find the series smart but the sequels lack the impact the first had. Footprints, closing doors, and no ghosts dressed in white make it feel real. It's haunting. The little film that could holds a similar resemblance to Carpenter's Halloween in how word of mouth got it seen. I've likely just lost more than half my readers by making that statement but it's what I've noticed. Halloween is the most prominent and important film in the slasher genre (slasher 101, if you will) and I'll attest that Paranormal Activity is the most prominent and important film in the found footage genre. Blair Witch did it first, or Cannibal Holocaust, depending on your preference but Paranormal Activity did it best.
Honorable Mentions: The Blair Witch (1999), the original found footage sensation that uses the simple rustle of leaves to terrify. [REC] (2007), a reporter and her crew are quarantined inside an apartment building while doing a story and capture something terrifying instead. The Fourth Kind (2009), a take on the real disappearances of several locals in small town Alaska where the real footage is intertwined with the live action.
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