ByDrew Grimm Van Ess, writer at
Horror aficionado/nerd. Follow my blog for film reviews, book reviews, and interviews.
Drew Grimm Van Ess

As a horror purist, I've been scratching the walls lately with all of the new and rather terrible movies I've seen. And the one thing that they all have in common is that they're mostly all found footage. About six of the last ten 2013-2014 flicks that I've viewed were all done in what's now commonly known as shaky hand-held camera style. The movies that I've seen as of late, and didn't enjoy at all, include:

  • "SX Tape" (2013)
  • "Delivery: The Beast Within" (2013)
  • "Afflicted" (2013)
  • "Alien Abduction" (2014)
  • "The Black Water Vampire" (2014)
  • "Hate Crime" (2013)

The thing is, this isn't a new style of filmmaking, in fact, it dates back to at least the 1980's, with "Cannibal Holocaust". However, as most horror fans know, the sub-genre didn't really get on its feet until 1999 when the groundbreaking independent picture, The Blair Witch Project was released upon the world. Some love it, some hate it, but the point is that due to the success of Blair Witch, all we've gotten as genre fans since then, are cheap hack ripoffs with no budget. See, people love the idea of making a lot of money off of something that doesn't cost a lot to do, who doesn't?

Don't get me wrong, there are some good found footage movies out there, they're just few and far between. It seems as if about four out of every five are unlikable. Some good ones to check out are the Spanish film "[REC]" (2007), and the American remake, "Quarantine" (2008), the very first "Paranormal Activity" (2007), the aforementioned "The Blair Witch Project" (1999), "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" (2006), the "V/H/S" (2013-2014) anthology movies, and more.

The only problem is quality control. Because you don't really need a big budget to carry a camcorder around, everyone who wants to be a filmmaker is trying to achieve it by making up a motion picture involving a lot of boring dialogue that's supposed to get us to know the characters and make it feel real. However, on top of the acting almost always being below par, the characters aren't genuine. We've seen the same song and dance for so long, yet everyone thinks they can offer something new, and all we end up with is a bunch of shaky camera angles, a boring story that would have had merit if not so low budget, and a wide space of nothing happening until the last five or ten minutes when the whole movie concludes as quickly as possible, allowing even more unsteadiness from the camera, and a lot of off camera screaming and noises. It's just not cutting it anymore, and it bothers me as a cinema lover.

You can trace the popularity of found footage back to Blair Witch, but it wasn't until 2009 when Paranormal Activity came out, that it became truly popular. While I enjoyed the first movie, the sequels tend to get worse and worse, and now we get 90 minutes of creaking doors and moving vacuums. The thrill is gone, the shock value isn't there anymore. So all there is to do is complain.

Problem is, once you've complained so many times, you not only sound like a broken record, but you've got people calling you 'horror trolls'- people who watch horror but hate it and love to bash it. After watching horror movies for over twenty years, it's pretty sad that myself and many, many others like me who are almost limitless in our knowledge of horror movies, are reduced to being called trolls. So, the only way to avoid troll territory is to stop reviewing the types of movies we don't like. However, when you've got a dozen movies coming out a week of that type, you've really got no choice, unless you just want to review old 80's movies that everyone's already seen a hundred times over. So in keeping up with what's 'hip' you've gotta watch what's new, and talk about it, even if you don't particularly care for the contents. So the popularity of a sub-genre now relies on you either being or not being a 'horror troll'.

There are talented writers out there who are having potentially good, even original, scripts made into found footage movies. And that's a shame. You've got everyone so eager to disrespect the horror genre due to the decline in good movies produced, and you've got award shows that don't even acknowledge the genre. And when a scary movie does win an award, it's labeled as a drama or something else in order to gain a prestigious award. But, the more I think about it, maybe us horror fans brought it on ourselves.

Jennifer Carpenter in "Quarantine" (2008)          
Jennifer Carpenter in "Quarantine" (2008)          

You've got too many people out there worried about making a name for themselves than to actually care about putting out quality material, and establishing a once cherished category of film. It just blows my mind how people think that by doing what has been done countless times over is somehow going to get them recognized and separated from the pack of other imitation movie makers like them. Add to that, that now movies from actual studios, that have big budgets are also cashing in on the found footage craze, costing them nothing while we make them rich. What was once used as a cheap way to make a creepy and effective film, has now generally turned into over produced garbage.

But the burning question is why do we stand for it? As an audience and moviegoers, why do we keep cashing in on movies that we know will ultimately lead to us face-palming ourselves? And I think the answer is because it's the popular phase of horror right now, so love it or hate it, shaky camera movies are going to be here a while. And because, when you have a found footage movie and a remake to chose from, you're stuck in a bad spot, and are often let down either way. But what does that mean for the rest of horror if all we've got are recycled ideas and remakes keeping it afloat?

I think the answer is that luckily for me, and horror aficionados like me, we have enough knowledge in who to trust the horror genre with. So we know specific directors, rather they're well-known, or just have a cult following, who can produce quality motion pictures and satisfy our needs. That, and the underground/independent market are about it. There's still a lot of good horror being made, you've just got to look for it and search it out, and quit allowing yourself to be spoon-fed the same old tired material. A lot of people don't look beneath the surface and that's a problem, because if they did, movies that deserve a lot of attention would get recognized, and we could set a new standard of popular horror films in which more can be made, and get horror back up on its feet.

So my question is, when will horror fans feel that found footage is enough, and want something more? Or is it the new wave of the future to just expect half-assed scary movies that do nothing but annoy us and put us to sleep? I think that in order to have a fruitful future, we need to start leaving found footage lost, and stop finding it. The realism aspect isn't there anymore, and you know what to expect from every one of 'em. There hasn't been a movie of this kind to really wow us since the first Paranormal Activity. Ti West's The Sacrament is possibly the best found footage film in the last decade, simply because it has guts, it's bold, and an actually talented director put it together.

Maybe one day, when we as moviegoers are truly tired of remakes and other mindless shaky camera movies, the horror genre can close that door and open another. As it is, the found footage sub-genre is catching up to the zombie sub-genre at an alarming rate in terms of the good movie-to-bad movie ratio. It's ugly, and it doesn't look pretty. But like all tough times, it shall pass.

"I don't like looking back. I'm always constantly looking forward. I'm not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I'm too busy looking for the next cow."

-Gordon Ramsay


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