After Blair Witch‘s disappointing box office run last year, the found footage fad has seemingly died down. This might be music to the ears of the many film fans who had grown weary of the overused trope, but it wasn’t all just shaky noise. Before Phoenix Forgotten once again sours moviegoers’ tastes this weekend, let’s take a moment to honor those films that justified the bygone found footage craze.
9.) The Visit
To many, this film marks the beginning of the Shyamalanissance (you’re welcome): the reemergence of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, whose reputation as “The Next Spielberg” infamously soured following the critical and financial flop that was The Last Airbender. It’s also Shyamalan’s foray into found footage and a solid thriller at that. Yes, you see Shyamalan’s signature twist coming from miles out, but what elevates this movie above the mass of forgettable found footage films is its charming self-awareness. It has fun with its premise and in turn the audience has fun.
While The Visit feeds off our fears of growing old, Unfriended gets its kicks from the new. It puts a scary spin on relatively recent technology like laptops, webcams, and social media. Not only does this make for some pretty innovative aesthetics, but the filmmakers take advantage of the medium to effectively stack the tension as the film builds towards its bonkers conclusion. There is also a deeper layer of horror hiding just beneath the surface scares, particularly for millennials.
Not only is V/H/S one of the most creative, creepy horror anthologies out there, but it’s also one of the best films to come out of the found footage craze. It benefits from being split into a handful of short stories, which means you don’t spend too much time on one thing. Each film introduces its horrifying hook and splits before you get bogged down in too much exposition. It also helps that these shorts are helmed by the rising stars in the genre, such as Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers).
6.) Paranormal Activity 2
The original Paranormal Activity may not have been the first found footage film, but it was the film that set off the craze in the late 2000’s. Arguably, Paranormal Activity 2 is a better film. It successfully lead the franchise in new directions. It expanded the single shaky cam premise from the first film and introduced security cams that were set up around the house. This allowed for the exploration of the family dynamic in new, exciting ways (let’s not forget about the poor baby!). It also paved the road for some of the most iconic scares, not just in the series, but in found footage as a whole.
5.) What We Do in the Shadows
Who said a found footage horror flick can’t be funny? This quirky comedy centers around a flat of vampire mates who are desperately trying to fit in with the contemporary social climate. It’s your typical fish-out-of-water story but with a supernatural twist. Their failures result in some hysterical hijinks but there’s something ultimately charming about their undying (pun intended) persistence. Indeed, these guys are fun to watch and easy to root for despite their complicated natures. Though they live in the shadows, they’re moral dilemmas are not so black, nor white.
4.) The Last Exorcism
This film puts an interesting religious spin on the seemingly played out “recording an exorcism” thing. Patrick Fabian gives a strong performance as Cotton Marcus, an evangelical minister who lost his faith long ago but continues to prey upon the religious beliefs of the families he exorcises by charging them to perform fake, theatrical exorcisms. Before retiring, he gets a letter in the mail from a family desperately seeking to exorcise their daughter. Marcus takes the job on the premise it will be his last exorcism. From there his faith is challenged by the increasingly insane Hell he and his camera crew endure. It’s one half intriguing character study, one half terrifying thrill ride.
This film is, well, creepy. Like The Last Exorcism, Creep too functions as an eerie character study. Mark Duplas gives a chilling, charismatic performance as a socially awkward but seemingly solicitous individual who employs the services of an amateur videographer for the purpose of shooting a documentary about his “life.” As events unfold in their palatably plodding manner, it becomes clear that Duplas is harboring sinister intentions. Every time I was sure I knew where this movie was going, the narrative took a sharp, 90 degree turn. And the ultimate ending left me shockingly stupefied and wanting to know more.
2.) The Blair Witch Project
This movie gets a lot of love and deservedly so. Even after sixteen years, this bare-bones thriller still holds up. It features a simple setup and arguably three of the most deceptively plain performances ever. The kids look and act like kids. Even as the film takes its time building towards its now iconic finish, it’s difficult not to be hooked by the mythology. Every town has a haunted house (or forest) with a darkly fascinating history. Naturally, tales about these locations are handed down through the generations to the point where it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction. In the end, though, the actual events, whatever may have truthfully transpired, are a moot point. It’s what we imagine those events to be that enamor us. The Blair Witch Project exploits this tradition to haunting effect.
1.) End of Watch
It’s strange to think of the found footage craze and not think horror. I mean, just look at this list. Alas, the best film to come out of the fad was End of Watch. It’s the crime thriller that put Director David Ayer (Fury, Suicide Squad) on the map. It features two career-highlighting performances from both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as partner cops who have a gut-wrenching run-in with the cartel. Equally gruesome and gripping, End of Watch represents the pinnacle of the found footage craze and will stay with you long after the credits roll.
What do you think of our list? Which ones did we get right and which ones would you swap out? Let us know in the comments below!