Can we all agree that found footage is dead? Like, as dead as the ghosts that found footage movies are always trying to film? There’s no way you can legitimately get away way making one these days with a straight face. If ever there was a genre that has been done to death, this is it. Like any movie gimmick or innovative new angle, it’s been used, abused and bastardised.
It’s a shame, too. When Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick brought an (almost) brand new genre to the forefront of popular culture with The Blair Witch Project back in ‘95 they had the seed of something really exciting. Their inaugural hand-held piece was, in retrospect, probably the purest form of found footage. It followed the very simple rules that we would expect of any home movie: if it couldn’t literally be filmed by the cast, then it wasn’t. There were no cinematic compromises like those that have infected the genre today. No flitting between shaky first person point-of-view and traditional narrative storytelling whenever the need for a little more movie flair became too much to resist.
That’s not to say there haven’t been a few gems along the way. The raw adrenaline and nostalgia of horror anthology V/H/S and its 2013 follow up were undoubtedly exciting (although now it’s verging a little too close to franchise territory) and André Øvredal’s Trollhunter twisted the expectations of the genre in a really cool way. However the root of the idea seems to have been lost. Perhaps its accessibility is the genre’s major flaw. Found footage movies are cheap and effective, making them the perfect vehicle for emerging directors (usually horror fans) and a cheque waiting to be cashed by major movie studios. Both are just as guilty of diluting the genre as the other.
Inconsistencies in storytelling started pushing our suspension of disbelief to ridiculous levels. Montages started showing up; erratic changes between diegetic and non-diegetic sound and people sticking with their camera in situations where any sane person would have ditched their hand held and ran for their lives. I mean, if you’re going to cash in a genre for a quick buck, the least you can do is play by its rules.
Found footage likely peaked with Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, taking what was once a cost effective niché and propelling it to JJ Abrams-produced levels of big-budget popcorn cinema. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Like the multiple horror baddies that populate its movies, maybe found footage isn’t properly dead after all. All it would take is some keen-eyed newcomer to spy an exciting new way to reinvigorate hand-held storytelling and a brand new genre would be born.
Just hurry up though, yeah? There’s only so much Paranormal Activity a person can take.
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