Recently, the trailer for the new horror film The Bay was released. Despite having a very eye-catching and effective poster, it immediately drew an eye-roll when I saw it was produced by the people who gave us Paranormal Activity. Sure enough, the trailer shows us yet another movie made up of footage supposedly suppressed by the government but is somehow leaked to the public, miraculously in a nice 90-minute package with all the unimportant bits removed. The trailer looks like a better-than-average one of these movies, but it’s still just found-footage. Then, the credit that really threw me for a loop: “From Academy-Award Winning Director Barry Levinson.” What? Surely he just produced it, right? But no; I checked the IMDb and the film was indeed directed by the guy who made Diner, Rain Man and Sleepers. Haven’t we gotten over this style of movie making? Aren’t we passed it yet?
The impact and importance of The Blair Witch Project in 1999 cannot be overstated. It was very different to any other horror film at the time and even its sequel couldn’t capture the magic. Lots of people thought the movie was real, which definitely aided in its huge box office returns. In 1998, however, a little-known film called The Last Broadcast, which was a faux documentary about people looking for the Jersey Devil, was released, ruining the Blair Witch impact a bit for some people (like me). While most of Blair Witch is just kids bickering and not holding a camera steady, what it did incredibly well is terrify without actually showing anything terrifying. It’s just people saying how scared they are and running through the forest, and yet it was able to scare grips of audience members who swear they saw something.
With the advancement of special effects and digital filmmaking technologies, the ability to show more in found footage films without costing an exorbitant amount of money became key to the genre. Films like REC and Cloverfield allowed us to see a lot of monstrous things while still maintaining the necessary story point of having it all being filmed by someone there. The steady output of these movies was really bolstered by the release of Paranormal Activity in 2009 which proved, yet again, that you could make horror movies on the cheap and they can make a shit-zillion dollars. My question is, though; what the hell is the point? Why is this particular “genre” of movie so in vogue? Is it just because other people had done it before?
Low-budget horror movies have been made forever and usually make a lot of money. In fact, before Blair Witch, the two most profitable independent films had been The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974 and Halloween in 1978, which remained on top until 1999. The found footage variety is one of the most limiting and burdened kinds of movies there are. Filmmakers must forever tread the line of believability. Every camera angle must be justified within the frame of it being filmed by one of the characters. If there’s even one omniscient moment or instance of stretching time for the sake of tension, you’ve completely lost the point of what apparently makes these movies good in the first place.
The way I see it, there are three inherent flaws that exist within found footage movies that are why I can’t get into them.
1) People Wouldn’t Keep Filming – I don’t care how much you think people “need to see this;” there’s no way someone would continue to film if they were that scared or, more importantly, if they were actually being chased by something terrifying. Let’s take Cloverfield as an example. If there truly was a huge, enormous monster destroying New York City, and you were running away from it and jump across rubble and things of that nature, who in their right mind would actually still sit there and shoot it? We’re supposed to just believe some victim has the presence of mind to continue recording on a shitty handheld camera just so we, the audience, don’t miss anything. Wouldn’t the tape and/or battery run out?
2) Who Is Finding and Releasing All These Films? – The very fact that this footage is “found” means someone has to find it. If it’s a government secret as many of them claim to be, how did it come to be leaked and released in movie theaters? Surely the government would suppress such a thing from getting out if it shows evidence of zombies, aliens, monsters, ghosts or what have you. That person or company would be facing numerous counts of treason or at the very least theft. And what dumb government stooge is allowing all these movies to get stolen? There’s clearly a leak somewhere.
3) All Shock, No Suspense – These movies are nothing more than a string of boring, quiet scenes mixed with sudden jump scares. Paranormal Activity and its too-many sequels actually makes static security camera footage its main source of content. How fucking dull! Suspense is knowing something is coming and being worried the whole time; shock is simply just being startled when something jumps out at you. Look at John Carpenter’s Halloween; if it had been a found footage movie, there would be no shots of Michael Myers walking after Laurie Strode, no cutting between the babysitters and Dr. Loomis, certainly no Myers POV unless, for some reason, he also had a camera. The fun of horror movies is seeing what the characters don’t yet see. All that is lost with found footage.
So, in summation, I think found footage movies should go away. I don’t care what Oscar winners are now behind them; they need to stop. As I said, The Bay looks better than most, but that still isn’t as good as a regular, artfully-made horror movie.