A werewolf caught on camera. The premise of many found footage movies is a monster being recorded by an unwitting civilian. Illustration by Alyson Sutherland.

Fans of the horror genre (and those dragged into watching scary movies by their friends) have undoubtedly seen movies presented in the style of found, nonfiction camera footage. Often held by a doomed cameraperson, accompanying a newscaster or a friend delegated as the documentarian, the perspective of the camera adds realism to the terror and makes one feel like the events of the story are actually happening to them. Found footage movies provide this unique twist, giving us a departure from normal cinematic horror. 

Found footage films have been around since 1980, according to an article by Volta, an Irish video on-demand site. The earliest example of the found footage style was found in the third act of Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust,” a highly controversial film that led to the filmmakers getting arrested due to its realism and goriness. Found footage didn’t make it to the big screen again until 1999, with the release of “The Blair Witch Project.” 

“The Blair Witch Project” had an intense effect on viewers. “When I first saw it in high school, it just felt like I was watching something real,” said Adam Souza, a video production teacher at Franklin High School (FHS). One of the things Souza teaches his students is the concept of the camera as a character, which is the core of every found footage movie. Souza explained that this is what creates the realistic feeling that makes you think the events of the movie actually happened. 

When done right, the found footage style of filmmaking is truly compelling. It allows the audience to feel the reality of the movie, from a human perspective, not a cinematic one. It’s also a great way for low budget filmmakers to make a good movie without the backing of a big company and the conformity that comes along with it. However, when a found footage movie is done badly and isn’t compelling, it feels amateur and cheap. 

FHS senior Fisher West is an avid fan of found footage movies; his favorites are “As Above, So Below” and “Rec.” “[These] movies committed to the found footage style better than any other I’ve seen,” he explained. West finds the style of found footage very captivating. “The found footage style to me is a director’s choice to sacrifice what might be an optimal viewing angle in exchange for a much more real-feeling experience,” he said. However, he went on to say that “I think a well done [found footage] movie doesn’t have to make that sacrifice at all, and instead those close, cramped, bumpy shots can add to the movie.” 

Most found footage movies fade into obscurity, but there are a handful of popular ones that truly shine. As mentioned earlier, a well known found footage film is “The Blair Witch Project,” a story about a group of film students that are being terrorized by something in the woods. “Cloverfield” is another popular found footage film about a monster attack in New York filmed by a group of friends trying to escape the destruction.

Less well known but worth checking out is “Rec,” a Spanish movie about a news crew trapped in an apartment building with a zombie outbreak, and “As Above, So Below” which is the story of an archaeologist who is searching for the philosopher’s stone in the Paris Catacombs. These movies aren’t as mainstream as “Blair Witch” and “Cloverfield,” but they exemplify the qualities of a good found footage movie and are fan favorites. 

My personal favorite found footage movie, “Trollhunter,” is a Norwegian movie about a news crew filming a documentary about a man who kills trolls in Norway. It’s not as well known and uses a lot of CGI, but it has a special place in my heart as it’s the first found footage film I ever watched. I think it holds up as a good movie, and is definitely worth a watch. 

While many great horror movies are cinematic masterpieces with big budgets and complicated shots, the found footage style has firmly carved out its own place in the industry by bringing a sense of realism to the audience that more traditional horror movies don’t. It’s a chance for low budget indie studios to shine, and if done right, can shock and enrapture the audience, becoming a cult favorite. If you’re a fan of scary movies, I recommend any of the titles in this article–if you dare. 

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