With a weak opening of barely $9 million, Apollo 18 stunk up the September box office this past Labor Day Weekend. Few had much faith in a film that was jostled around the release schedule in such a random manner, and the lack of a significant press screening more or less sealed the deal. But there’s another factor involved in the flop that few have mentioned - the significant struggle required to make a good first person, POV, found footage film. The list of pretenders to the throne - The Poughkeepsie Tapes, The Zombie Diaries, The Last Horror Movie - are many, and for every classic take on the material, there are dozens of desperate wannabes who can’t seem to create compelling characters (Paranormal Activity) or a suspenseful storyline (The Last Exorcism).
In a nutshell, here’s the inherent problem with the category - the audience has to believe they are seeing something real. They have to believe that there’s a reason for a constantly filming camera (even in light of impending danger). They have to believe in the images captured. And they have to believe that the threat will continue to grow worse. The viewer should want to avert their eyes, not permanently close them in bored out of their brain tedium. It’s one of the most delicate and deceptive balancing acts in all of cinema. Perhaps this is why successful examples are so rare. In the case of the ten titles listed here, more than a few have flaws. In fact, only a couple are close to perfect. What they all have in common is the ability to deliver on their promise - and in the first person, POV, found footage arena, that’s a major accomplishment.