Gary Collinson presents his five essential found footage films…
Given the success of Oren Peli’s self-financed debut Paranormal Activity a few years back, it was inevitable that filmmakers would seek to capitalise on this with a string of new entries in the ‘found footage’ genre. Requiring only modest budgets, and often without star names of any kind, the found footage film really is a Hollywood producer’s dream, but what does come as a surprise is just how popular these films continue to prove with audiences.
Since the arrival of Paranormal Activity, movies such as Cloverfield and The Last Exorcism – not to mention Paranormal Activity 2 and Paranormal Activity 3 – have all reaped huge returns for their backers and this year alone we’ve seen two found footage films top the North American box office in The Devil Inside and Chronicle. It’s not just Hollywood that has a fascination with the found footage genre either, with recent international offerings including the likes of Spanish horror REC and Norwegian monster movie Troll Hunter, while even Bollywood is looking to get in on the act.
Of course, it’s not all rosy in found footage land and for every Paranormal Activity there are plenty of Welcome to the Jungles, so here we separate the wheat from the chaff with a selection of five of the very best…
5. Chronicle (2012, dir. Josh Trank)
Considering current audience trends, the pitch for Chronicle must have been one of the smoothest in history: “It’s a found footage film, and it’s got superheroes in it.” Well, not quite superheroes per se, but director Josh Trank’s debut feature about three teens who develop super powers already had all the makings of a box office hit from the moment it was announced, and the fact that it turned out to be a damn good movie to boot only served to solidify that fact. A superb first effort from its young director, Chronicle has recently topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and is a rare non-horror entry in the found footage genre.
4. Cloverfield (2008, dir. Matt Reeves)
Another film that had sure-fire hit written all over it from day one was this 2008 creature feature from director Matt Reeves and producer J.J. Abrams. Envisioned by Abrams as America’s answer to Godzilla, Cloverfield benefited from a fantastic viral marketing campaign that started out with a mysterious teaser trailer attached to Transformers in the summer of 2007. This led to months of speculation about the film within the online community and by the time that Cloverfield arrived in cinemas in January 2008, its success was all but assured. It’s no Godzilla, but Cloverfield is still one of the best found footage films around, despite the fact the monster turned out to be a bit lame.
3. [REC] (2007, dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza)
The Spanish horror [REC] follows a documentary crew who find themselves trapped in an apartment block while filming a group of fireman for a television series. Unfortunately for them, the majority of the tenants in said apartment block have become infected by a virus believed to be the cause of demonic possession, thanks to some iffy experiments that the Vatican have been carrying out up in the penthouse. Remade in the United States (virtually shot-for-shot) as the vastly inferior Quarantine, [REC] is one of the finest horror entries in the found footage genre and has already spawned one decent sequel, [REC] 2, with another two on the way.
2. The Blair Witch Project (1999, dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez)
Shot in just eight days on an initial budget of around $25,000, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project introduced the found footage film to mainstream audiences and became one of the most successful budget-to-gross releases of all time with global box office receipts just shy of $250m. The Blair Witch Project was hugely influential – not just in terms of its genre, but in using the internet as a tool to market movies, and to this day it remains the yardstick by which all found footage films are measured. It’s also infinitely scarier than Paranormal Activity, although the less said about Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the better.
1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato)
The Blair Witch Project may have been the movie that brought the found footage genre to mainstream cinemagoers, but it’s Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 Italian shocker Cannibal Holocaust that is the granddaddy of them all. However, let’s get one thing straight – Cannibal Holocaust is certainly not for everyone. It is without a doubt one of – if not the – most brutal, depraved and downright sickest films ever to be committed to celluloid, and that’s before we get to the disgusting scenes of animal cruelty. Unless you’ve got a stomach as strong as the Incredible Hulk, chances are you’ll find yourself reaching for the remote at the earliest opportunity, but if you can make it all the way through to the end, then you’ll see why Cannibal Holocaust is the essential found footage film.
Paranormal Activity (2007, dir. Oren Peli)
REC 2 (2009, dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza)
The Last Exorcism (2010, dir Daniel Stamm)
Troll Hunter (2010, dir. André Øvredal)
Apollo 18 (2011, dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego)
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