Back in 1999 THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT terrified audiences and made an absolute killing at the box office. Obviously, it was safe to assume that other filmmakers would soon jump on the found footage bandwagon – and that they did.
Fifteen years and a barrage of found footage franchises down the line, the popularity of cinema verité shows no signs of easing up any time soon, with Sánchez even recently having retraced his footprints to the sub-genre last year with the Bigfoot chiller EXISTS; although it paled in comparison to his previous outing in the woods.
And today sees the exceedingly long-awaited release of BLAIR WITCH from YOU’RE NEXT and THE GUEST scribe and helmer, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard respectively. In celebration of the film’s release, we thought now was the perfect time to take a look at found footage films that definitely deserve being found…
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Considered by most as the founding father that spawned the ensuing torrent of found footage films right up to present day, it certainly offered a sui generis treat, providing audiences with an amateur student film, something seldom seen on a cinema screen back then. Directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s organic approach, combined with the calculated decision to “lose” some of the pieces of the films “jigsaw puzzle,” heightened audience suggestibility to a whole new level.
All three leads are as palpable as they come as Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, who head over to Burkittsville to interview locals in an attempt to unmask the 200-year-old Blair Witch urban legend. The locals’ stories are told in such a legitimate fashion and are so intriguing that you can’t help but yearn for the protagonists to trek off into the woods already.
Whilst this won’t fare quite so well with anyone with a penchant for spoon-fed blood and violence, THE BLAIR WITCH flat out knows how to stoke your imagination, and rather than the film itself scaring you silly, what’s left to the audience’s imagination is the real culprit for those dangerously high levels of adrenaline running through the system.
THE DEN (2013)
THE DEN is one of various recent flicks to bring the online video chat phenomenon into the mix giving the found footage genre yet another fresh lick of paint. Director Zach Donohue’s debut feature follows graduate student, Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia), who receives a grant to study video-chat culture. To do so she devotes her every waking moment to a website called The Den. This plot device results in the majority of the action taking place on computer monitors with window upon window of streaming videos and, surprisingly, it’s much more of an audience immersive experience than you might think.
Elizabeth crosses paths will all manner of dim-witted teenagers, eccentrics and fetishists until she clicks on someone she shouldn’t have. Despite being in the safety of her own home, it’s not long before the evil lurking at the other end of her broadband connection literally hacks into her life, putting both her and her friends and family in harms way.
The concept works particularly well thanks to its sharp commentary on the use of social networks, something we can all relate to. It helps ground the whole thing and raises some serious awareness as to just how safe the internet really is – albeit somewhat exaggerated. If, like the film’s star, you are an avid video chatter, once the shit hits Elizabeth’s CPU fan, THE DEN will have you thinking twice and thrice about ever Skyping again.
IN DARKNESS WE FALL (LA CUEVA) (2014)
Alfredo Montero’s IN DARKNESS WE FALL might not be anywhere as near as groundbreaking asd THE BLAIR WITCH PROJET but what it does have going for it is the fact the helmer/scribe really knows how to create a bond between the audience and the screen – the perfect tool to escalate tension and claustrophobia when things turn pear shaped.
If you’re not aware of this one, the film follows five holidaymakers who head off to the idyllic island of Formentera. The prologue follows their typical trials and tribulations as they go skinny dipping at the beach, share stories around a campfire, etc., and whilst this might sound derivative as heck, it cleverly avoids ever turning into a yawnsome homemade camcorder holiday vid.
The actors put in top performances which does nothing but help the film crawl even deeper under your skin and once they’re forced to make some more than drastic choices, you’ll be constantly pondering what you’d do in their situation.
If you’re feeling sorely starved of some fresh found footage fodder then this one is certainly worth a watch.
THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (2014)
Adam Robitel’s THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN not only provides one of the most novel concepts here but the creepiest performance. Adopting a student documentary format, the lead reporter is a medical student commissioned a grant to document Deborah Logan (Jill Larson), a patient suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Whilst Deborah doesn’t seem all that keen on a film crew shadowing her each and every move, her daughter convinces her to agree as they need the money.
The idea of an elderly woman suffering Alzheimer’s may not sound like the stuff of nightmares but you have literally no idea where the film will take you and Larson’s portrayal of Deborah is absolutely daunting as she deteriorates into something you could never expect.
Here’s a film you won’t be forgetting any time soon.
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D (2016)
By far one of the better horror/comedies (and found footage movies) I’ve seen of late, writer/director Steven DeGennaro’s feature debut, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D essentially succeeds by, despite taking the unabashedly self-aware approach, making damned sure not to neglect the fact that its target audience would be out for blood and a healthy helping of the real scares and clever plotting that made the films it’s poking a bit of fun at so popular.
The film’s real ace up its sleeve is the deftly written dialogue and inspired humor, all buoyed by a completely committed cast who really make the whole thing all the more palpable and, accordingly, you can’t help but get sucked right in. And despite the film being a comedy at its core, it also manages to include a few well devised shit-your-pants scares that I honestly wasn’t expecting to see before heading into this one.
Definitely one to add to your collection if you’re a fan of films akin to likes of LESLIE VERNON and TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL and I’m certain we’ll soon start seeing this new addition to the sub-genre being added to all those ever-popular 10 FOUND FOOTAGE FILMS WORTH FINDING lists. Oh, hang on! This IS a list of found footage films worth finding…..
We also asked a few more Terror Time writers to pitch in and let us know their particular favourite found footage flicks and this is what they came up with:
BRAD SLATON: WILLOW CREEK – While the movie had its issues it approached found footage in a way technically that hasn’t been done before.
IAN DONEGAN: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – Why? Because it was one of the earliest and had such a batshit insane story behind the production, reception, and consequence after its release. It also has some legitmately impressive special effects (especially for 1980) and has that sweet, sweet soundtrack to boot.
JUSTIN HAMELIN: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT – It was so savvy with the marketing and of course it brought on the found footage craze. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a genuinely unnerving film that absolutely scared the hell out of me when I saw it the first 30 times! It still affects me today…
BLAIR WITCH heads to theaters around the world today and we’ll leave you with the official trailer. You can also read our full review right about here.