Let me be clear, this sub-genre has it detractors, its doubters, lets face it – outright haters; and while I love this type of horror film, I can see why. It practically thumbs its nose at stylistic horror classics such as 'Rosemarys Baby', 'The Exorcist' and 'A Tale of Two Sisters', it is polar opposite to such recent beautifully shot horrors such as ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’, ‘At The Devils Door’ and anything made by Guillermo Del Toro.
But, even so, it works for me, and I cant help but get a little bit excited when I read ‘found footage’ on the films description.
Due to my fondness, nay – passion, for found footage horrors, I present to you my definitive list of the ten best.
Clearly this is representative of this writers opinion only, but trust me – I have put in the legwork to have a good solid body of work to pull from.
1. Lake Mungo
This is a film that crosses between mockumentary and found footage. It tells the story of a family coping with loss and looking for answers after the drowning death of their daughter. Sounds simple but this film explores family secrets, the paranormal, grieving and facing your own mortality. Also, it is one of the scariest films I have ever seen, more specifically – it features one of the scariest sequences ever put to film and for that alone it deserves the number one spot; but I also like that this is an intelligent and thought-provoking horror, set in reality with people we could know. It is slow, it has riches you have to delve for, it has all new horrors to reveal even up to the very last few shots, and it truly unsettled me. This is what I want in a horror – real people and real emotions but still with the ability to truly make me afraid – Lake Mungo achieved that.
2. Paranormal Activity
We all know the story by now – a couple decide to investigate the disturbance they can feel in their house by setting up cameras at the end of the bed. What we see is what they filmed. This film jolted me out of my cozy 'no-horrors-really-scare-me' mindset like a bolt of lightening. It was unremittingly full of dread, each night the camera is set up revealing escalating terrors with an unstoppable momentum. The things captured on film are the stuff of real-life nightmares. I went home from this shell-shocked and troubled and slept with the lights on like a baby for three nights straight..
3. The Blair Witch Project
Another very famous ‘classic’ that really ushered in the dawn of found footage and became one of the most financially successful films of all time (try saying that aloud with Kanye’s voice in your head – ha ha). A documentary film crew go into the woods to investigate a local witch story and don’t come out again, the film is what was found on the cameras left behind. Some folks believed this story to be true when it came out due to a successful marketing campaign and the unknowns cast in the key roles. This is also a slow-build horror film with just enough little scares to keep you watching that builds to one of the most haunting endings I have seen on film – just thinking about that final shot gives me chills even now. Sometimes what you imagine is a thousand times worse than what you see.. and this film is a case in point – clever film-making that paid off.
I saw this before ‘REC’ the Spanish original and having seen REC since (which is amazing and undeniably creepy) I actually still prefer this one. I felt the story was more coherent and it hung together as a compete film better for me. A virus takes over an apartment building but this virus turns people into people-eaters and before you can say zombie, the folks inside are quarantined and have to survive somehow on their own. This was NOT a slow burn horror and once it got going it held the pedal to the floor from beginning to end. Had me literally climbing to the back of my couch to get away from the immediacy of what was on the screen – the found footage working in a different way here and making you feel as much a part of the action as you would be if it were happening in your home. Relentless.
5. Noroi: The Curse
A Japanese found footage film concerning a documentary film crew investigating a phenomenon know as ‘the curse’ which turns out to be a very nasty demon. The footage left behind by the missing lead investigator forms the body of this film and so is therefore a true found footage film even though it again has elements of mockumentary. It’s designed to creep up on you, revealing new detail as the lead character sinks deeper and deeper into a mystery he doesn’t want to leave unsolved, no matter how dangerous it gets. This one is complex, suspenseful, atmospheric, and absolutely terrifying.
6. As Above, So Below
This is a horror to celebrate for different reasons than the scares. The horror is there but it is low key and did not disturb me that much, what I liked was its originality. Its about a small group of intrepid explorers searching for the fabled ‘Philosophers Stone’ in the underground catacombs of Paris. The characters are all shades of grey, they use intellect to escape sticky situations, they genuinely care about each other and the ‘face your own demons’ shtick is handled expertly. Its disturbing enough to be somewhat scary, humane enough to feel real, makes good use of the unusual and exotic locale and allows it’s characters room to breath. Not to mention – none of those pesky cliché-ridden endings in sight!
7. The Bay
Directed by heavyweight Barry Levinson, this film is about a disease outbreak in a small town in the Bay Area, USA. How it spreads and brings fear and panic in its wake is skillfully explored here, the townsfolk falling to an ecological disaster that is all too topical for the world we live in now. I liked the downbeat sense of this film, and the body-horror was effectively gross and skin-crawling. I also appreciated the message – mess with the bull and you get the horns – mother nature aint messing around folks and soon she’s gunna get tired of us.
8. Paranormal Activity 3
I have to admit that I liked part two as well, but for the sheer audacity of the film-makers to go back and flesh out a backstory three films into the series I have to pick this one. Set in the joyous 80’s, this film explores why the whole saga started in the first place. The scares are good and afforded me some nice jumps, the acting believable and seriously, combining ghosts and creepy kids – that’s a winner folks!
9. Grave Encounters
Ok, so it’s a little silly, a little over the top and the characters are far from likable, but for me it didn’t matter cause this was quite the ride! Duplicitous tv ghost hunters investigate an abandoned psychiatric hospital expecting to have to ‘create’ ghostly goings on as per usual and instead find the real thing. Some big jump scares worked very well, the claustrophobic situation the film-makers find themselves in was palpable, and there were a few neat tricks to do with time and place that almost made this viewer feel a little panicy. Big dumb fun.
10. The Taking of Deborah Logan
This film also crosses between found footage and mockumentary – something a few films on this list can claim. It tells the story of an elderly woman who may be suffering from more than just Alzheimer's, and the crew that decide to document her decline. This is a slow burn horror, another trait also shared by other films on this list, because that’s what works best for me. I felt that the acting in this film was raw and realistic as it should be in a found footage genre film. The scares worked due to a substantial creep factor and the committed performances of the cast. The big reveal backstory was nicely unusual. This one stayed with me, mainly because of THAT 'snakey' scene.. if you've seen it, you know what I mean..