I will state emphatically I am not a fan of “found footage” films. As someone who trains cameramen in the art of proper shot composition, framing, sequencing and steadiness, the entire genre is akin to open heart surgery without anesthesia. GHOUL, a new independent horror film, sets an entirely new level for films of this ilk.
Somewhere in the spiraling chaos of GHOUL, there is a decent story. A group of young documentary filmmakers travels to the Ukraine to investigate reports of underground cannibalism. Their meticulously arranged interviews, and transportation all go to hell in a hand basket and they find themselves trapped in a secluded house with a demon. Of course, the demon, and anyone who can help the filmmakers, doesn’t speak English, so you’re required to read the dialogue as the camera plays Merry-Go-Round. Though you may be sitting comfortably on your couch with feet flat on the floor, you will require Dramamine to make it to the film’s end.
I blame J.J. Abrams for this. Years ago, he made CLOVERFIELD using the found footage gimmick. He was inspired to do the film after visiting Japan. He witnessed how iconic Godzilla is in Japan and wanted to create an American counterpart. His CLOVERFIELD monster never caught on with the American viewing public, marketers nor advertisers, principally due to the difficulty in accepting a monster seen only through swinging cameras. Since CLOVERFIELD, the movie mimics have created far more found footage films than necessary. These include the equally unwatchable REC 2; THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; ALIEN ABDUCTION; AS ABOVE SO BELOW; V/H/S/ VIRAL; THE SACRAMENT; EUROPA REPORT; THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY; and the upcoming UNFRIENDED.
Generally, this happens for several reasons. One, the amount of money needed for special effects is simply not available, so the shaky camera techniques help hide cheesy prosthetics, puppets or rubber masks. This is the case with GHOUL. For this type of film, there is very little gore. This is surprising since fake blood can be made by the gallon with simple grocery store items. Two, the story is weak. Perhaps it follows a worn template, or the script shows too many inconsistencies in linear fashion, so the discombobulating of the camerawork enables the viewer not to notice the inconsistencies (probably because they are using all their effort to discover what the hell is happening on screen). Finally, some filmmakers use this technique because they really have cameramen who are terrible.
The cinematography in GHOUL is so horrible, it doesn’t matter what the storyline is, how well the actors perform. It is simply unwatchable. I had to look away from the screen to avoid vertigo. I like schlock-B horror films, but if you took a video camera and spun around in your back yard, the footage would look better and be more watchable than GHOUL. If this film genre dies a terrible death, it will be none too soon.