Few genres are as profitable, or as disrespected, as the found footage genre. Whether you think of it as ‘first person cinema’ or POV cinema, or just shaky-cam, creating a film from handheld video footage has led to huge, iconic hits like The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity franchise, but also has given birth to a legion of terrible, cheap imitations. Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott’s cheeky, informative documentary offers a crash course in the found footage phenomenon of the title, and it’s worth a look for the brief glimpses of some very weird looking films contained here.
Technology is one of the driving forces behind the genre; we have to believe that the characters we see have access to today’s consumer technology. But the ancestors of the genre go back to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, and to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, a feature that purported to be assembled from the film-canisters left over by a film crew eaten by cannibals. For those who are squeamish, there’s more than a few entries in this genre which are best skirted over, but horror fans should lap it up as we see the genre develop and films like The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project in particular bring found footage into the mainstream.
Thankfully, the usual droning horror film bores are absent, and the documentary’s talking heads are largely directors and critics with a specific interest in how the genre works; it’s unlikely that the Blair Witch effect could happen at any other time that 1999, since that film played specifically on the audience’s unfamiliarity with the internet which set the scene for their viewing. Paranormal Activity managed to repeat the trick with a simpler yet more sophisticated approach, and while the imitation snuff movies described here may turn the stomach, one assumes that they satisfy audience cravings for the outré.
Even respectable streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix are awash with lousy found footage films, but even directors like Brian de Palma have ventured into the fray with his underrated, edgy Redacted. While the hits may be irregular, and one contributor correctly describes it as a sub-genre, found footage offers a level playing field for big and small budget film-makers alike, and this celebration of found footage is a compulsive, no-nonsense analysis for anyone with a taste for these ingenious films.