It's been about four years since we offered up a look at the best examples of the found footage film. With a few additions, our feelings remain the same.
In hopes of persuading filmgoers to avoid the mainstream this week and seek out something unusual instead, a new horror movie is being released entitled Willow Creek. It's the story of some investigators hot on the trail of Bigfoot, and it features the work of one of the unlikeliest auteur's around - former stand-up turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait. Unfortunately, this first foray into terror is yet another found footage effort filmed with POV shots of shaky backdrops and actors. While reviews have been positive, there's a good chance that we may have a noble failure on our hands. That's because there can be a 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 (we're still holding out hope for Willow Creek). 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.
Ruggero Deodato did such a great job recreating the flesh feasting crimes in this savage goona-goona satire of the media that he was actually detained by Italian police, accused of helming an actual snuff film. Of course, it was all faked, but this didn't stop urban legends and other conjecture from surrounding this sickening exercise in excess. Nowhere is the dichotomy between reality and ratings played out in such a slick, sick way. While the bookend material is a tad hamfisted (it makes Network look subtle), there is no denying the impact of the supposed "real" depictions of death.
Bears have been supposedly attacking the locals in the uncivilized wilderness of upper Norway. A group of college journalists head out to explore the "truth". What they come up with is a startling discovery; there are trolls in them thar woods and a government sponsored hunter out to stop their destructive and deadly rampage. Suddenly, the tone shifts from an ongoing mystery to a subtle black comedy about the bureaucratic headache of being the country's only legitimate sprite slayer. With some spectacular F/X and set-pieces, this low budget foreign effort really delivers on the promise of the overall POV premise.
George Romero jumped into the found footage fray after the less than enthusiastic response for his fourth installment in the Dead series (Land of the…). With a fan base still clamoring for more zombie goodness, he came up with a clever way of resetting the franchise. In pure postmodern meta style, he showed the initial living dead outbreak from an amateur horror film crew's accidental perspective. They then go on to capture some unsettling hints of the outright dread to come. Some felt the macabre master was showing his age (and desperation) with such an approach, yet the results remain undeniably unsettling.
At the time, it was the most recent entry in the always tricky "scariest movie of all time" department. Oddly enough, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez's cinematic shell game was always meant to be a multimedia con. There was a no BS website, a lack of available talent for interviews, and early reviews suggesting that this was the first authentic example of a true found footage title ever. In the end, it was just a really good ruse backed up with a slight, sloppy scary movie. The ending is still sensational. The rest of the movie has only grown more grating with age.
One of the lingering controversies in this new subgenre is which came first, The Last Broadcast or The Blair Witch Project. There are similarities between both that are eerily prophetic and some have suggested that the Burkittsville filmmakers caught a festival screening of this similarly styled effort, the rest being multimillion dollar history. Whatever the final version of the truth, this criminally overlooked thriller features a group of public access cable adventurers meeting their fate in a fabled wood. The rest of the narrative tries to unravel the mystery surrounding their death, succeeding in sending shivers up one's spine in the process.