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Categories: Features

We pick out the best films from the past decade that have excelled in the boundaries of the “found footage” style.

It’s not a genre that everyone likes and, even if you do, it often takes a lot more than it gives. People tend to exploit the style for its low-cost/high-yield potential but a talented filmmaker can find the raw emotional intensity it affords a story and its uncanny ability to allow the audience’s imagination to run riot. Here are our top, contemporary, examples of the found footage style done right.

 

Chronicle (2012)

Josh Trank and Max Landis’ hit riff on the superhero origin fable may not have resulted in the new creative force that film fans had been hoping for (Trank’s woes on 2015’s Fantastic Four were the ugliest of Hollywood’s recent clashings with directors over big franchise opportunities and, though it’s easy to forget now, he was one of the original names attached to Disney’s new Star Wars films before being summarily fired) but it did introduce a much wider audience to Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan, who’ve both been leaving their mark on the big screen ever since.

 

Cloverfield (2008)

A much better example of a high-concept, big-scale, found footage film that introduced the multiplex to some exciting names behind the camera. Cloverfield was one of the cinematic audience’s first, big, introductions to JJ Abrams’ beloved “mystery box” chic, reigniting the found footage viral marketing flame set by grandaddy The Blair Witch Project, as well as some of his now-illustrious cohorts Drew Goddard, Matt Reeves and Michael Giacchino. A fresh take on post-9/11 destruction porn that made monster movies seem a little more tangible.

 

As Above, So Below (2014)

Part emotional horror, part found footage Indiana Jones, John Erick Dowdle’s As Above, So Below, about a group venturing into the Paris catacombs in search of the philosopher’s stone, is a weird one but that adds something to it. There’s a real theme park ride vibe to the film, right down to the torchlit chamber filled with overflowing chests of gold coins and jewel necklaces. It also does a good job of incrementally ramping up the urgency and the weirdness throughout. As the characters progressively go deeper, the film becomes more and more entertainingly nonsensical.   

 

Trollhunter (2010)

André Øvredal’s fantasy mockumentary, which is fairly self-explanatory, mixes Hollywood movie magic with Norwegian cultural, and scenic, magic to dizzying effect. Øvredal’s clear love for Norwegian folklore is written all over the film and it results in a lot of entertaining humour as well as some surprising emotion. There’s almost certainly a lot that’s lost on the non-Norwegian viewer, but Øvredal is such a talented filmmaker that you can always tell when something in the film has meaning. Even when you don’t know, exactly, what that meaning is.  

 

Home Movie (2008)

Actor Christopher Denham found success in the found footage genre for his directorial debut Home Movie, as many do, really taking advantage of what the style can do with limited locations, actors and budget. Shot on a somewhat secluded country home with essentially just four characters (mother, father, son, daughter), it fleshes what would normally have been a short film idea out into a satisfyingly creepy feature full of character development, tension and some disturbing, creative, ideas that wouldn’t become the norm in mainstream multiplex horror for some time.

 

V/H/S (2012)

Speaking of horror shorts, not enough praise can be given to V/H/S for finally bringing the horror anthology back into the mainstream, updated and exploding with new talent. As with all anthologies, some segments are better than others but there’s enough variation in the shooting style and tone to keep it an interesting experience. People often single out David Bruckner’s segment Amateur Night as the pièce de résistance and I have to agree. It’s creative, contemporary and an achievement for the genre altogether that wouldn’t really be topped until the next film…

 

V/H/S/2 (2013)

Bigger, badder, bolder and bloodier. V/H/S/2 not only increases its scope and number of directors, it also makes sure not to blow its gorey load too early this time, with Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans’ unforgettably bonkers segment Safe Haven being sufficiently built up to. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart and cements it as an all-round better film than the original, making the V/H/S series the Godfather of horror anthologies because the first one is great, the second one is even better and the third one, V/H/S: Viral, is abominably awful.

 

REC 2 (2009)

A lot of the time, maybe even most of the time, found footage is used as a gimmick to more cheaply, and easily, shoot something. Even when it’s being done well, the viewer is still often detached from the events in the film (the idea is, of course, that you’re viewing footage that you found) but Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s first two REC films really put the viewer in the shoes of its characters. You really feel the threat, and urgency, that they feel in situations. You become as trapped and transfixed as they are. The first film is equally recommended, it’s just more than a decade old.

 

Willow Creek (2013)

Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait has been an interesting director, if purely for the breadth of genre that he’s taken stabs at. He’s made more than one cult favourite for lots of different people but his take on found footage may be his best film to date. Through his irreverent characters and conversation, Goldthwait comes perhaps the closest to recreating the lost documentary feel of genre Godfather The Blair Witch Project. Ironically, one of the original Blair Witch directors released their own, similarly themed, film the following year and you can read about it in our Worst Found Footage list.    

 

Lake Mungo (2008)

In terms of absolutely chilling fake documentaries though, it’s hard to do much better than Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo. It’s an almost unparalleled ghost story that explores horror and the sensation of terror in regards to mortality in the simplest terms. A family that recently lost a sixteen-year-old daughter begins to experience paranormal goings on for a variety of reasons, but the most horrifying unknown that they have to face is death itself. The senselessness of it, the tragedy of it, the grief that it leaves behind. The ghost becomes not so much a presence, more an absence.

 

 

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Jun 17, 2018

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