It’s debatable, but it needs to be said I think The Blair Witch Project (1999) is overrated. Not that I don’t appreciate it – the film helped kickstart the found footage subgenre and unsettled horror fans at the time. But let’s face it, it’s really just the last 5 minutes that people remember the most. And an ending just doesn’t save an entire movie. There are many horror fans who don’t care, and as a result some have sworn off or dismissed the entire found footage subgenre.
Too bad, because found footage has won the hearts of many horror fans over the years. It can be really crazy and effective because the movies feel so real. Whether the style for the films is handheld cameras, computers or phone screens, etc. the end result can be fun!
However, just like other subgenres, it’s a process of moving through the clothes to find gold. Most people saw that Paranormal Activity franchise, but where do you turn when you want something off the beaten path (but still a fantastic watch)? And if you’re reading this, you’ve come to the right place. Of all the footage found that I’ve personally seen, these are the best.
difficult encounters (2011)
Okay, as far as stupid decisions go, the characters in this movie are stupid at level 10, but stick with it. The plot follows a crew from a paranormal reality show, Grave Encounters, who lock themselves up in a supposedly haunted/abandoned psychiatric hospital. You can probably see where this is going – their quest for paranormal activity leads them to find exactly what they wanted, but at the cost of their lives.
The film starts off, of course, with the producer explaining the show’s cancellation and that they’ve uncovered this raw footage – and then it’s off to the racing. There are some problematic moments. Making the only black character a black male using the ‘f’ slur is… yes. But aside from a few criticisms, this is a really nerve-wracking found footage movie. The entities are scary and the story behind the hospital is really ugly. It’s worth checking out.
As above, so below (2014)
Despite its unfairly negative reviews, this is one hell of a found footage horror film. The film follows Scarlett’s (Perdita Weeks) documentary crew as they search the Paris catacombs for the Philosopher’s Stone. But they soon uncover a darkness lurking beneath Paris, and not all make it out alive.
This film builds a lot of suspense and leaves you guessing who will survive. And Scarlett as a character is incredibly ambitious, which is taking people’s lives. The atmosphere is eerie, there are real scares, and overall it’s a memorable found footage horror film. If you have never seen this, go in with an open mind and ignore the reviews!
Spirits taking revenge on people who have wronged them is not a new concept. In fact, it’s the oldest in the horror books (sort of). But this movie still finds a way to teach an old dog some new tricks.
The film follows a group of friends who get stuck on a Skype call with the ghost of a dead classmate out for revenge. Somehow this one has so many twists and turns that it makes up for a really typical concept. And the horrors have an interesting feel to them because they’re playing on a computer screen. And as mysteries are revealed, we find that our “protagonists” have done some pretty horrific things. The audience has to ask themselves if they deserve what is happening to him.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
“Absolutely terrifying on so many levels” is probably the best way to describe this film. Not only does it show the horrors of Alzheimer’s, but also a very violent obsession.
The plot focuses on a documentary crew making a film about Alzheimer’s patients, only to stumble upon something sinister during filming. Possession movies can be cliche, but this one consistently freaked out because Deborah’s (Jill Larson) possession is so unpredictable. Also, their behavior could be explained away by illness, and the ambiguity of whether it’s all real or not creates a sense of unease. Also, Sarah (Anne Ramsay) is a queer protagonist and co-writer/director Adam Robitel is openly gay! It’s a Pride Month Horror win.
The visit (2015)
Okay, this is by no means an underrated film, in fact it was well received when it came out. However, that doesn’t mean it deserves less mention. After some less than perfect offerings over the years, M. Night Shyalaman really hits the scare factor here.
The plot focuses on a single mother and her two children, whom she leaves with her separated parents to go on vacation with her boyfriend. What starts out as just a bizarre visit turns into something much worse. And the documentary-like children’s film becomes a form of evidence-gathering/unveiling the mystery. This leads to a very funny twist. The script and direction are obviously good, but the acting by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould is a major highlight.
Hell House LLC trilogy (2015-2020)
The first movie is the best of the three, but it’s still a pretty well-founded trilogy of movies. The series focuses on the mystery of the Abaddon Hotel and why people keep disappearing and dying there. And what exactly makes it such a hotspot for terrifying activity?
The terrifying nature of the Abaddon Hotel is one aspect of the film that is compelling enough. But what makes the movies (especially the first and third ones) so scary is how they’re filmed, the deaths, the hell house tune, and the ghosts (especially those damn clowns!). Not to mention how many characters try to make money off the hotel even though they know terrible things are happening there. If you like a continuous story then these movies might be for you.
Unfriends: Dark Web (2018)
Unlike its predecessor with its supernatural menace, the threats in this film are very human – which makes it all the more disturbing (with cybercriminal hackers as villains). The film follows Matias (Colin Woodell) who finds a laptop in a coffee shop’s lost property office. Instead of leaving it, he takes it and knits his friends into twisted situations involving the dark web. But Matias is not a villain, he just wants to help his deaf friend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). This sequel’s use of computer screen style is surprisingly as good as (maybe even better) the first. And the characters aren’t that unlikable, so you cheer them on more. There’s even a queer couple who clearly have the support of their friends. Overall, it offers a twist on found footage horror with antagonists that aren’t as cut and dry.
River Spree (2020)
“A modern day American psycho” that’s how some people described this movie. The plot follows Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery), a social media obsessed rideshare driver. After his pathetic attempts at internet fame, he starts live streaming the murders of his passengers to go viral. Joe Keery’s acting comes as no surprise, we all know he’s great at what he does. And he really does play Kurt as such an incredibly pathetic person. However, most of its sacrifices aren’t worth crying about, and the film deals with the dangers of trying to become famous. Especially in the digital age where people are willing to do almost anything. It’s not necessarily the violence that’s wild. That’s how far Kurt is willing to go in his quest for fame. Also, it has to be mentioned that David Arquette plays a minor role in this!
It would be stupid not to mention this movie, wouldn’t it? The plot is so original that it’s set (literally) during the pandemic and focuses on friends mocking a Zoom séance. Only to be terrorized and killed by an evil entity. It has something to do with the way the movie is shot (everything was done remotely) and how scary the scares are. This film has such a high level of creativity and the acting feels so real that you could almost mistake the characters for real people. It’s a film worthy of the love and praise it has received.
Mention the other V/H/S Films would be somewhat superfluous. And this one has no dud segments. In fact, every segment is interesting and Raatma is so damn freaky too. This entry follows an aggressive police SWAT team as they stumble upon a disturbing iconic compound and a collection of abandoned tapes. Of course, each segment has a different level of violence and fear. Somehow, despite being a sequel, it sits at the top of V/H/S movie lists (feel free to disagree) and shows that found footage still has speed. And staying with the film to the end will pay off.
(Selected image: Universal Pictures)
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