As a big-time horror fan, I'm always on the lookout for films that have a unique "scare factor" that sets them apart from all others, presenting something unexpected and all-around terrifying. For a while this was the "found footage" narrative technique, a newer style that placed the audience directly in the shoes of the central character, allowing them a better view of exactly what the characters were seeing and wanted you to see, while also restraining them with moments of tension when a character was incapacitated or simply not using the camera. It deviated from the norm in terms of storytelling and drew the audiences into the world of the film more so than watching from an uninvolved perspective. The characters would seemingly communicate directly with the audience when talking to the camera.
In terms of horror, this meant the audience was drawn in more by the narrative, eliciting more reaction to scares and tension. The different use of the camera also forced audiences to see more than they would normally and enjoy it more from a voyeuristic perspective. Characters suddenly became more realistic as backstories were more natural and genuine and more of the characters personal lives were shown. The found footage genre used minimal edits, making it seem more realistic and believable, but the lack of edits forces the audience to watch more horrific and terrifying scenes without cuts to break them up.
When The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, it was seen as one of the first of its kind to utilize the found footage technique; earlier films such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) forgotten.
Plugging itself as a true story during its initial promotions The Blair Witch Project achieved huge success, taking in $248.6 million at the box office despite its indie-horror production. Since then it has become one of the most popular sub-horror genres with successful franchises such as Paranormal Activity and [Rec]. They range from ghost hunting, location exploration and documentary shooting-based storylines with anything from one base camcorder to multiple CCTV cameras filming the unfolding events. However, with the Paranormal Activity franchise reaching its sixth film and a sequel to The Blair Witch Project due for release in September, has the genre had its time?
The Blair Witch Project was the first horror film I ever watched and while I wasn't scared by it, I loved the idea (in an almost morbid way) that it could have been real. I found it so engaging and such a unique way of telling the story that I was desperate for more. When Paranormal Activity was released in 2007 I was so ready for it. At my younger age, I did find it genuinely scary, feeling chilled as the almost "live-action" events were unfolding in front of me. I felt the tension each time the footage was fast forwarded and then played, looking eagerly around the frame to spot what spooky event would take place next.
And then the sequel came out in 2010 and I loved the additional cameras, meaning that the off-camera events in the previous film wouldn't be missed in the newer story. I liked the way the story was linked and how it added further depth to what I already knew, making it somehow more chilling. Then the third movie came out a year later. There wasn't enough time for the anticipation to build up, so the excitement and hype for the film was non-existent. I went to see it nonetheless and was pleasantly surprised. I liked how the footage instantly became a little more believable with the grainy quality and was a little spooked, but I think when you're on your own watching a horror in an empty cinema, anyone is likely to be a bit on edge.
When the fourth came out in 2012 I was fed up with the franchise. There was nothing new the genre or franchise could add to up the ante or make the scares unexpected. It was just another repeat of exactly what the other films had done. For me this ruined the genre because realistically, what more can be added to the genre to make it stand out?
As mentioned, there are the other storylines that each have their own conventions and methods of progressing the narrative, but again, once you've seen one character's unfolding events, the rest become the same. It then comes down to the story that must be unique. In 2014, As Above, So Below was released — an exploration storyline about the catacombs in France — and it was brilliant.
The storyline was so different and unlike anything I'd personally seen before, what was shown by the camera was new and the scares were so much better.
However, with the upcoming release of Blair Witch in September there really are very few unique storylines coming out at the moment to do the genre justice. Plugged as an exact follow up to the original, it follows the same basic concept with some of the exact same scares shown in the trailer. The found footage technique is being drained, overused and just not scary anymore. Its time for a new genre to come into play or for writers to start coming up with new concepts.
Watch the trailer for Blair Witch below and decide for yourself:
What is your favorite found footage movie?