The 5 films which (most) ruined found-footage horror

the devil inside

Found-footage is a much loved and much used technique in horror cinema. Done right, it can be hugely immersive and really add atmosphere to a story. In the same way as video games, it puts the viewer in the story.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always done right.

The recent ubiquity of the format has led to a bit of “found-footage fatigue“. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the technique, but some filmmakers have hit upon it as a rubber stamp for a good film, or — worse — a cheap-and-cheerful get-rich-quick scheme.

So here is my rundown of five of the worst, which have played a larger part than most in the wrecking of the genre.

5. The Amityville Haunting

The Amityville what now?

It feels a little mean to put this on the list. There’s very little separating The Amityville Haunting from the hundred other similar films. Rushed out quickly and on the cheap for the quick score, there’s little effort gone into it and little merit as a result.

The only thing which singles it out for particular scorn is the dining out on the name of an actually good horror film. No, not the Ryan Reynolds remake.

4. The Devil Inside

I struggle, honestly, to remember what happens in this film. A woman discovers that her institutionalised mother’s mental illness is rooted in demonic possession and goes to the Vatican (?!) to investigate. That’s about the gist of it. Trouble is, it doesn’t end. It carries on all Paranormal Activity style, but gives even less closure at the end. Instead it directs the viewer to a (non-functional) website to complete the story.

The problem is that some filmmakers seem to have hit upon found-footage as a way to avoid putting any effort in. The budget must have mostly blown on those huge posters on the London Underground, because spending wasn’t evident on the film.

3. Cloverfield

Holy shaky-cam, Batman!

I know that a lot of people really liked this, and I do think J.J. Abrams is a very talented man (though he needs some sort of rehab for his lens flare problem), but Cloverfield suffers from fairly chronic problems. The shaky cam is only the most immediately noticeable.

Others include the fact that very little of the film makes sense. It only starts to if you’ve seen all or most of the promotional material. It seemed exciting at a distance, but the end product was something of a sad, disorganised disappointment.

2. The Blair Witch Project

Nonexistent budget? Only a hand-cam and a few bad actors required? Sign me up!

This was the one which started the gold rush, and came close to taking the top-spot. It’s not actually that bad an effort for what went into it, but the response it evoked was completely out of proportion. It was mildly creepy in parts, but didn’t even approach the “utter terror” with which some viewers and critics greeted it.

Most of the time you were either looking up someone’s snotty nose, or trying to figure out which way was up. And the host of no-effort imitations which followed brought the format to its knees.

1. Paranormal Activity

Like celluloid herpes, it just. Won’t. Die.

The first Paranormal Activity was a sensation, even if it didn’t do much for me. The pacing was all wrong, with the same set pieces being over-extended and repeated until the ending was left flat. The same problem plagued the second installment, where the whole first half-hour was unnecessary.

Truthfully, they would have made better short films.

Now we’re on the verge of the fifth and sixth installments, and anything it may once have had to say has certainly been said by now. But for the makers, this is a cheap and easy licence to print money, without artistic merit and with ever-diminishing entertainment value.

Yep, Paranormal Activity is the film which has done the most to wreck the found-footage sub-genre. Cheers.


    1. I haven’t seen VHS 2, but I have watched the first one. I considered it as part of this exercise — and the second part listing the best of the subgenre, which I’ll be writing next week — and honestly felt I could put elements in both camps.

      Part of the problem is the anthology-like nature. Some of the shorts were very strong (“Tuesday the 17th” and “The Sick Thing Which Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”, for example) but others were noticeably weaker. My thoughts were that it showcases the best and the mundane of found-footage, but I was particularly impressed with the framing devices used,


  1. I must admit I really don’t get on with films shot like this and no longer watch them. I simply don’t think it works as it’s always a very small way into these movies that they have to start weaving in weak premises for the actors to still be films stuff and that premise like in Cloverfield is that the guy with the camera is a dick. When you watch a normal home movie and people being filmed say “stop film me” that’s pretty much always where the film stops. On top of this fact the shaky-cam often makes me feel nauseous.


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