So before Christmas, I ran down what I thought were the five worst examples of found-footage horror in film. It was a spot of spleen-venting, in which I knocked down a few of my pet hates about the format. However, I fear that in the process I may have given the impression that I don’t like found-footage as a rule.
I’m a sceptic, that much is true. As the last blog indicated, there are many pitfalls for films to fall into. But that’s not to say all of them do.
These strengths are centred around the ability to put the viewer in the midst of the action. Done right it can melt away the fourth wall from the viewer’s side, and ramp up tension, in a way which is perfectly suited to horror films.
So here you go, my top five found-footage horror films.
5. The Europa Report
I’m cheating a little here, as it’s not exactly horror. But there are definite horror characteristics to this realistic SF mockumentary. It manages to accurately portray the bleak loneliness of a team on their way to search for life on Europa, as well as a pervading sense of foreboding doom.
The oft-infuriatingly out of focus shots lend a sense of mystery and realism, at the same time as the documentary format compliments the footage, and the ending is a perfect harmony of excitement and self-sacrifice. The horror is offset by the hope, and this could quite easily have been a real documentary.
4. Lake Mungo
Another mockumentary, but this one is full on horror. For my money it strikes the right tone, aiming for the sort of “shocking” documentary you find on high numbered digital channels as the evening wears on. Telling the story of a number of creepy happenings surrounding a dead schoolgirl.
There is the usual bait and switch of a cheap entertainment documentary, with some of the apparent paranormal events being unmasked as false. But it’s that genuine feel which creates the believable impression of a family in mourning, and gives the ending its raw, terrifying punch.
3. Troll Hunter
There is a moment in this Norwegian slice of cinematic brilliance, where the titular troll hunter bursts out of the dark forest at the student filmmakers, and simply screams “TROLL!” And that moment is when this transcends from somewhat odd romp across Scandanavian vistas to something all the more entertaining.
There is no obvious reason why Troll Hunter should be as good as it is, save for the amount of care and attention which has gone into it. It manages to merge Norwegian mythology with the present day world without a problem. The question of whether a Muslim camerawoman will draw the trolls like Christian blood does evokes a shrug from Hans.
And in a piece of absolute genius, it mixes in, by way of epilogue, a clip of the Norwegian Prime Minister apparently admitting the existence of trolls. It gives the whole film a sheen of believability, alongside an unending sense of fun.
2. The Last Exorcism
Like Troll Hunter, on the face of it there’s no reason why The Last Exorcism should be anything particularly special. It follows a disillusioned exorcist in the American deep south, who takes a documentary crew with him on one last case. Except as dumb luck has it, it starts to look like it might be a real one.
Everything in The Last Exorcism comes together into one perfect package, though. The acting is phenomenal. From Patrick Fabian’s disheartened priest Cotton Marcus, to Ashley Bell’s weirdly unsettling performance as Nell — even if she does look like a female Michael Cera. Coupled with the deep south setting, and a pacing which escalates the set pieces, whilst allaying them with believable and sincere plot twists.
And the climax, which is foreshadowed excellently through the course of the film, is played out with moving character and near perfect symbolism.
The first time that I watched [REC] was late at night, alone, and in the dark. I did not sleep well that night.
A Spanish take on found-footage — and, I note, the second foreign language film on this list — [REC] sees a news documentary crew following a group of firemen on a call-out to an apartment building. When the building is sealed off under quarantine, a zombie-like infection eats away at the residents, firemen and film crew.
It gives a tense and claustrophobic feel, of being trapped with something mysterious and dangerous, and it ramps up that tension to a terrifying conclusion which still gives me shivers thinking back on it now. In my opinion, [REC] is the film which best uses the advantages bestowed by the found-footage format to create mood, atmosphere, and above all, fear.
Feel free to disagree in the comments.