10 Freaky Found Footage Films
Found Footage is a frustrating subgenre of horror. When done right it puts you so close to the story that it feels real. You are there with the characters and experiencing the horror with them. It can be visceral and engaging in way few other movies can be. And when done wrong it is complete, and utter crap. Sadly, most often Found Footage movies fall into the later category. But here are 10 films that get it mostly right if not knock it out of the park.
Held loosely together by a paper thin framing story of group of young punks breaking into a house a VHS tape, V/H/S is a fun if flawed anthology movie. As with most anthology movies V/H/S is a mixed bag. Thankfully what it gets right is truly memorable and what it doesn’t is largely tolerable.
With director’s like Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, and collective filmmakers Radio Silence V/H/S is hard to pass up for any horror fan. They each bring their own style and innovation to the projects and the found footage style helps create some cohesion. Though, arguably the sense of a single cohesive movie isn’t great. It lacks the sense of connective tissue that movies like Tales from the Dark Side had. Some of the same artists teamed up again for the much superior Southbound which we can’t recommend enough. That said, V/H/S is worth it just for the first entry alone. If you enjoy the film the sequel, while not as good also has some decent offerings.
9. Lake Mungo
Australian horror flick Lake Mungo is more mockumentary that straight found footage. But it does the first so well that it earns a spot on the list. When teenager Alice Palmer drowns while swimming with her family her younger brother Matthew becomes convinced of supernatural events tied to her death. He begins setting up cameras around the house to capture images of he ghost, but catches much more than that.
Lots of found footage movies play with the idea that what you are about to watch is real. Its part of the charm. But that illusion is destroyed once something horrific or undeniably supernatural happens. What law enforcement agency would release footage of an unsolved and ongoing murder case? And who would ok the release of a movie with grizzly footage of actual murders? And if it has ghosts or monsters on camera why isn’t it international news? The suspension of disbelief is destroyed quickly in those regards.
Lake Mungo plays its cards much closer to the chest. It treats the material just like a real documentary. There are voice overs, professional scores, rational explanations and a sense of journalistic integrity throughout the movie – and its wholly convincing for it. The pace is slow and methodical but with enough drama to keep the story interesting. This is not typical horror but for those who enjoy more atmospheric and cerebral horror Lake Mungo should be your next stop.
8. The Sacrament
Every director who sets out to make a biopic should watch The Sacrament first. This is how you do it right. The sacrament is essentially a largely accurate retelling of the Jim Jones Cult and the Jonestown Massacre. However, Ti West, changes the names and events just enough to call it fiction. This allows him the freedom to take artistic license when needed. We get a more emotionally authentic representation of a horrific event, without altering history and being disrespectful to victims and their families.
The Sacrament is tense and brilliantly constructed. There are some heart pounding scenes that just ooze with tension. However, anyone with a more than cursory knowledge of the actual events will see things coming a mile away as it is surprisingly accurate despite being fiction. The performances are fantastic and everything about it feel genuine. If you are interested in learning a bit more about history or just want a good tense thriller the Sacrament is a great choice.
7. As Above So Below
As Above So Below is a rather surprising movie. Not because of its quality or ingenuity of scares, but because of its approach. Creative team John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle managed to come up with something fairly novel with their fourth collaboration. As Above So Below is less of a horror movie and more of a very dark adventure movie in the vein of Indiana Jones or The Mummy series. That’s not to say there aren’t horror elements. There are some genuinely creepy moments that are executed well. None of the scares are particularly innovative, and their effectiveness is debatable. But the story and the characters are great and it comes together in a surprisingly effective way.
The strength here are the characters and bleak and gory Temple of Doom overtones. There is enough here to satisfy most horror fans, but not enough to surprise them. Fans of archaeological adventure movies who want something darker are in for a treat here.
6. Hell House LLC
Professional haunters Hell House LLC put on a haunted house tour each October. The group makes a desperate ploy to up their image by setting up in an old hotel outside of New York city with a haunted past all its own.
Hell House LLC takes the tried and true found footage story beats and tries to mix it up a bit by putting it into a more mockumentary set up. The first act is largely talking heads recounting the events of the final night of Hell House’s latests attraction. This provides a compelling enough movie on its own that could have continued in this method, like Lake Mungo. However, the documentary crew catches the break of a lifetime and gets their hands on actual footage from the set up to the last night.
What follows is a very standard found footage movie done well. There notion of using store bought Halloween decorations as movies props take chutzpah. Pulling it off, takes skill. Hell House LLC pulls it off up until the end. The last ten minutes or so becomes unnecessary overkill, but not enough to ruin the film. Great character development and some wonderful build up pulls Hell House above its peers to be a great found footage film.
5. Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity seems to try and replicate what made the Blair Witch such a phenomenon for both studios and audiences. A bare bones approach, an intimate relationship with the cast, and cheap but effective scares. And it works.
Trading out spooky woods for haunted suburbia gives us one of the most effective haunted house movies in recent history. Katie and Micah have just moved into a new suburban starter home. They are soon disturbed by strange occurrence in the dead of night.
Many have complained that the movie was too boring to get into. And they’re not wrong. Writer/director Oren Peli makes a gamble early on to explore the mundane existence of this suburban couple. While tedious at first, the gamble starts to pay off as the literal bumps in the night seem grossly and eerily out of place. It replicates wonderfully what we all would assume a “real” haunting would feel like. Sound plays an intricate part in the development of this movie in a way few haunted house movies beyond the Changeling(1980) have done.
Paranormal Activity may take a bit to get going but once it does it a great job of keeping the horror present. As expected it spawned a thousand sequels and copycats, none of which are of particular note. But this is a worthy watch for any horror fan.
Bobcat Goldthwait has come along way from his growling-idiot shtick from the 80’s. Not to belittle his growling idiot shtick, I loved it then and I love it now. But he is a more interesting filmmaker than he is a comedian, and Willow Creek is probably his best yet.
A very lean movie at a meger 80 minutes, Willow Creek will leave you haunted. Very little happens in the first 2/3 s of this movie. Much of this movie is watching budding Bigfoot documentary filmmaker Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his wife Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) struggling to get their film made. Goldthwait adds just enough human drama and tension to keep things interesting until the third act.
When things finally seem to be going ok, Goldthwaite turns the tables on us. From there the tension just builds steadily until it is oppressively omnipresent. Goldwaite forces us to sit through every moment with hardly a minute to catch our breath. While bare bones and not even remotely gory, Willow Creek leaves your mind filled with truly horrifying implications. It is a disturbing movie, but not a graphic one.
Rarely do horror movies really scare me. Occasionally I might get startled at a well placed jump scare. But usually my heart rate doesn’t even quicken in the slightest. I cannot make that claim for [REC]. This Spanish found footage movie is taught and claustrophobic. It puts you on the edge of your seat early on and keeps you there until the last frame.
While filming a fluff piece of firefighters, journalist Angela (Manuela Velasco) ends up on a ride along with the local fire department that turns disastrous. What follows is a found footage zombie movie that feels like a blend of 28 Days Later and the early Resident Evil games.
The movie continually ratchets up the danger and tension leading to a terrifying conclusion. Don’t bother with the US remake Quarantine. While extremely similar it just isn’t very scary. [REC] is not only one of the best found footage horror films, it is one of the best all around horror films.
This movie is totally and utterly brilliant. Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass really know their stuff. It is a found footage film that is both a homage to and a deconstruction of the found footage sub genre. Every trick and trope is played with and examined and utilized to surprising effect. They are masters at subverting your expectations so that you are never really sure what is going to happen next. Dark comic overtones are mixed with realistic and chilling plot developments. It is funny, and scary, and engaging, and wonderful. The less said the better. Just go watch it.
Honorable mentions: Before we get to number one on our list here are some found footage films for our more enthusiastic fans.
The Taking of Deborah Morgan: Some great performances, wonderful scares, and a good handling of the issues of aging and ailing parents and human frailties.
Mr. Jones: One of the most creative and original mythologies in recent horror. The film is a mish-mash when it comes to narrative styles, plot points, and quality in general. But its worth checking out if you have low expectations.
Grave Encounters: A great idea and a good execution of scares is greatly hampered by 2 dimensional characters and some hamfisted dialog. Still, if you are fan of found footage don’t skip this one.
1. The Blair Witch Project
Did you really think ti would be anything else? This movie has taken a lot of crap over the years, and yet I would argue it is one of the most well crafted horror movies of all time. The shoestring budget vs profit, the behind the scenes antics, and the masterful, masterful, marketing campaigns are all interesting stories unto themselves. However, its whats on film (or often what isn’t) that makes this a great movie.
Character development is key to any movie. You have to really like or at least understand characters to become invested in them. The movie does a wonderful job of establishing these characters throughout the movie. Some find the slow burn aspect here to be tedious, but the final payoff makes every scene worth it.
The movie dances around the mythology of the Blair Witch. We get just enough details to construct an idea of what is going on, but certainty is kept forever out of reach. The movie just ignites your imagination before sending chills down your spine.
This leads to one of the films biggest strengths – you never know exactly what happened. Was it ghosts and the supernatural, or violent humans teasing their prey? Thanks to some off screen antics by the directors and a improve based approach the performances are disturbingly real. While it wasn’t the first found footage film, it is arguably the best.