In a recent article on iHorror, columnist Carly Knaszak hypothesized that “found footage”, one of the dominate horror subgenres of the 21st Century, may finally have run its course:
“Found footage films are a great way to make audiences feel like they are in the actual film. They even leave some people feeling sick with the lifelike movement of the cameras. But ever since Paranormal relaunched the found footage point of view are these films losing their touch?”
While she goes on to make a valid argument that this style of filmmaking may have been overused, and therefore feels exhausted, there are plenty of examples that prove found footage is still a powerful and effective medium—when done right. Below are the Top 10 Found Footage Horror Movies of the 21st Century. These films demonstrate that the “trend” is far from over, and that skillful writers and directors are continuing to make exciting and intelligent innovations.
At a time when the appeal of found footage movies had a lot to do with the fact that they’re comparatively inexpensive to produce, Paramount Pictures changed the game in 2008 by making Cloverfield on a whopping budget of $25 million. The investment paid off in spades; not only did Cloverfield gross over $170 million worldwide, it was a hit with fans and critics alike. More than any other film in the subgenre, Cloverfield plays out like a direct reimagining of the events of 9/11.
Hanger 10 (2014)
The “Rendlesham Forest incident” refers to a cluster of UFO sightings in England that occurred around a military installation occupied by the U.S. Air Force in 1980. One of the most famous UFO incidents in recorded history, the event has been referred to as “Britain’s Roswell”. Hangar 10 follows a trio of modern-day treasure hunters who find themselves at the epicenter of ongoing alien activity in the region. While the film is rough around the edges (a common hallmark of found footage films) the final reveal is jaw-dropping.
Trollhunter uses Scandinavian mythology as a jumping off point, following a group of conservationists investigating a series of mysterious animal mutilations. They cross paths with a man they presume is a poacher only to discover he actually works for a government agency charged with monitoring and controlling troll activity throughout the country. Yes, it all sounds preposterous, which is what makes the very real tension and suspense Trollhunter creates all the more impressive. It’s also a hoot!
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
One of the best genre films of 2014, The Taking of Deborah Logan, is an outstanding example of found footage and one of the scariest possession movies ever made. Jill Larson is brilliant and unnerving as the titular lead Deborah Logan, a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease—and perhaps something even more insidious. Her ability to fluctuate between timid old lady and terrifying aggressor keeps the audience on pins and needles throughout. The film’s conclusion has one of the best “WTF?” moments in recent memory—an image likely to remain seared into your brain for ages.
Devil’s Pass (2013)
Part of what makes Devil’s Pass so captivating is that it’s based on a real (if lesser known) incident that’s fascinated paranormal researchers in Europe and Asia for decades. A team of college students from Oregon travel to the Ural Mountains in Russia, looking for clues in the unexplained deaths of 9 skiers back in 1959 (referred to as The Dyatlov Pass Incident). The film manages to incorporate just about every aspect of this modern myth, creating a lively and compelling experience. Great pacing and FX that go far beyond what is typically expected in found footage offerings make this a crowd pleaser that will satisfy fans of horror, sci-fi, and straight-up action.
A direct response to a spate of highly publicized cases of “cyber-bullying”, Unfriended is one of 2015’s most lauded horror films. It takes place entirely within a video chatroom, a bold innovation that garnered rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The idea of a ghost using the internet to get revenge on her tormentors may sound ludicrous, but a sharp script and a talented young cast pull it off with aplomb, delivering a convincing exploration of technology’s dark side.
Digging Up the Marrow (2014)
Adam Green’s “meta” masterpiece Digging Up the Marrow didn’t get the accolades it deserved; while it resonated with hardcore genre fans, it failed to connect with more mainstream audiences—which is a damn shame. Green plays himself and the film includes cameos from Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, and Mick Garris. Ray Wise plays an unhinged paranormal investigator seeking Green’s assistance in documenting an underground society of real-life monsters.
Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
As WWII slogged towards its bloody conclusion, a group of Russian soldiers discover a bunker inhabited by all manner of insidious monstrosities, constructed by a relative of infamous “mad scientist”, Victor Frankenstein. Meshing decaying corpses with scrapped machinery, Viktor (played by Karel Roden) hopes to build an invincible army that Hitler can use to turn the tide. Brilliant practical FX make Frankenstein’s Army a vibrant thrill ride that will tickle fans of Gothic horror and steam-punk aesthetics; it’s also a fantastic horror comedy that was, unfortunately, vastly underrated at the time of its release.
Undocumented is another tragically under-known found footage film that perhaps suffers from the blatant political agenda it wears on its sleeve. A team of documentarians following Mexican migrants illegally crossing the US Border run afoul of a gang of anti-immigration rouge “patriots”. These send-ups of modern “Minutemen” don’t simply repel migrants, rather they take them hostage, enslaving them in an underground compound of horrors. Forced into an uneasy alliance with their captors, the filmmakers must reconcile their instincts towards self-preservation with their responsibility to protect their charges—and their own humanity.
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne takes meta-filmmaking to mind-bending extremes and plays out like an arthouse snuff film. The umbrella term “mockumentary” simply isn’t completely accurate. In fact, just calling Be My Cat “unique” is an understatement (no small feat in the arena of found footage films). What we have here is potentially revolutionary and, like the most impactful examples of uncompromising art, potentially dangerous. The line between fact and fiction has never been so terrifyingly and brilliantly blurred. Be My Cat has thrilled international festival audiences and will have its American premiere later in 2016.
While I agree that an avalanche of found footage horror movies has left many fans feeling jaded and saturated, films like the ones above show there’s plenty of gas left in the tank. Found footage may have first been employed back in the 1980’s, but it’s a distinctly 21st Century subgenre that reflects both our digitally-inclined society and an obsession with documenting every waking moment. In my opinion, it’s more than just a passing trend, but rather a style of filmmaking likely to endure for many years to come—like it or not!
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