Found footage films are probably the most realistic set of films, primarily because of their low budget optimization that lends them a real world look. Right from the underwhelming dialogues to the extremely close camera positioning, found footage presents a situation that you can very much relate to. A great found footage film takes a fantasized situation and makes it gripping and real, by focusing on the interaction between its characters and the environment. It’s also a cost-effective genre and is experimented upon by young filmmakers because of the wide variety of possibilities it provides, without the addition of elements like soundtrack, effective sound design or cinematography. Maybe this is also the reason why it is looked down upon more frequently than other genres.
The dependence of its impact on marketing strategies and choice of events, subsequently intriguing the average movie-goer even before they have seen the film, has been highly debated and many ardent critics have spoken about its varying impact on different watches. While it may have its fair share of flaws, like every other genre it’s a great experience when executed correctly with a slice of originality. I’ll now be looking at the top found footage horror movies ever. You can also watch some of these found footage movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu.
10. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
I believe ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’ along with ‘Creep’ has given a new hope to the genre, and we can expect others to strike back after the menace caused by ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘REC’ and ‘VHS’ franchises. It’s a fresh entry for possession horror after all the mediocrity James Wan has been selling the world. Though the movie banks on jump-scares like most mainstream modern horrors, it has an interesting story that takes visible influence from 80’s European supernatural horror. Jill Larson as the possessed Alzheimer’s patient gives one of the best female performances in horror from the past decade. The direction is the real deal, as newcomer Adam Robitel slowly sets up Deborah Logan’s descent into madness by involving the viewers into her life and then steadily pulling the rug from under her feet.
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9. Creep (2014)
‘Creep’ is one of the recent found footage films that caught my attention because of its originality and oddball revision of the genre. We’ve had so many psychopaths in the horror genre who have an uncanny ability to be perfect when it comes to executing tasks or people; masterminds with corrupted hearts. Creep, on the other hand is not only realistic because of it’s handheld camerawork but mainly due to its characterization. Mark Duplass is what you’d get if Peter Seller played Norman Bates, cruel intentions with whimsical outcomes. Patrick Kack-Brice is your late 20’s jobless Janet Leigh who agrees to film Duplass’s character in a secluded cabin for the latter’s unborn son. Though it begins as those odd paired bromance films, it turns into a frightening tale of bestiality and stalking.
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8. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
‘Cannibal Holocaust’ could quite possibly be considered the first found footage horror movie. The genre was unknown and the consequences of its release were quite disastrous for director Ruggero Deodato, as his license was revoked for 3 years and was also arrested for assumed “human deaths” on screen. The only reason why the movie finds a spot on the lower end of the list is because of its repulsive animal abuse, which was very unnecessary considering the groundbreaking practical effects used in the movie. Apart from that, Cannibal Holocaust is a shocking satire on avaricious humans from a society that has reached its peak tampering with nature, which is represented by the cannibals who are as indigenous as the plants and animals.
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7. Paranormal Activity (2007)
The recent boom in the found footage can be credited to Oren Peli’s erudition on ‘Paranormal Activity’. The movie is best known for being the most profitable movie ever made, though being shot on a home video camera. But the one quality that really stands out is its approach towards converting “home sweet home” to a claustrophobic nightmare. By doing this, it surpasses the effect of ‘Blair Witch Project’, because the latter was shot in a setting that was unknown and is assumed to be dangerous anyway. Peli also opted for “retroscripting”, a technique where the screenplay is loosely constructed, that allows actors to improvise their dialogues while being shot. This makes the film feel natural because scripted dialogues in horror movies take away one of the primary features of realism, the instinctive delivery.
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6. Troll Hunter (2010)
If there’s one thing that nobody else in the world of cinema delivers as good as the Nordic countries, is dark comedy. It’s a staple ingredient, and we’ve seen it in ‘Headhunters’ and ‘The Bothersome Man’. Cast one of the finest Norwegian comedians, Otto Jesperson to deliver slick humor and a 100 meter tall troll to deliver some breathtaking horror, and the result is ‘Troll Hunter’. The movie avoids the shaky cam, and like most Scandinavian films opts for prolonged motionless moments to trap the ambience perfectly. Though the movie could have been shorter owing to its irritable exposition at times, that is compensated by the troll encounters which despite the low budget are sure to send chills down your spine.
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5. Cloverfield (2008)
Imagine a Lovecraftian monster rummaging through the streets of New York and tossing heads around, not people’s, but that of the Statue of Liberty. ‘Cloverfield’ was a very fresh entry in the worn out genre, and it was the first time disaster movie elements were combined with found footage. By focusing on a group of people trying to survive, the film converts a large scale apocalyptic situation into a minimalist one with the handheld camera restricting the plane of sight. Though one may argue over the justification behind the decision to record these events, but take a look around, the need to record anything unusual is almost instinctive today, we share the world with people who record others dying on hospital beds. The movie also has one of the most remarkable monsters put on screen this century.
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4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
‘The Blair Witch Project’ is the movie that kickstarted the genre. Though a similar movie, ‘The Last Broadcast’ was released an year ago, the myth around the Blair Witch captivated audiences worldwide. Following in the footsteps of ‘UFO Abduction, the movie was advertised as a real life video, and the marketing strategy was spot on as the movie earned $250 million on a budget of $60k. I’ve met people who’ve complained about how nothing really takes place in the movie, and there has been a number of theories about the ending which was very shocking, considering that was the only significant unnatural event. The movie’s real achievement is the hysteria it creates without any serious substance, only through the fear of the unknown. By focusing on its characters and the tension between them, the movie elevates from an indie found footage to an unnerving psychological horror.
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3. Chronicle (2012)
If I had to sum up ‘Chronicle’ in a sentence, I’d request you to imagine a situation where Peter Parker opts to let his powers consume him. But that’s just scratching the surface because this movie is much deeper. This found footage movie blends elements from superhero movies, sci-fi and coming-of-age dramas. Three teenagers find an unidentified object and its exposure grants them superpowers. The youngest one, who is constantly bullied both by his father and students, normally is affected the most, and in a state of obsession with his new life, considers himself as an apex predator and starts dictating his terms. Though the premise feels normal, Chronicle is successful at its pessimistic imagination of a boy standing up for himself, and hovers over self-righteous teenage movies where conclusions are as joyous as Ronald McDonald.
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2. REC (2007)
There were two zombie found footage movies released in 2007. One was a proof of George A.Romero’s fading presence in the genre and the other one, which was relatively unknown, went on to become a modern horror classic. The latter, ‘REC’, unlike its counterpart, used the shaky camera technique to create nerve-racking confusion, and inspired other horror movies like ‘Grave Encounters’ while spawning its own series. REC follows a TV crew filming the incidents in a quarantined apartment, which turns into a breeding place for a contagious virus that turns humans into ruthless cannibals. Despite the excessive unstable visuals, REC is very particular about details, especially in the “night-vision sequence” which is as horrifying as the spider walk from ‘The Exorcist’. Though the introduction might be slightly stretched, once the first kill takes place on screen, the movie never drops its intensity for a minute. My only disappointment is its lack of gore, which could have been built upon after the first neck tear.
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1. Man Bites Dog (1992)
‘Man Bites Dog’ is a movie that’s surely gonna rattle you regarding your stance and reaction towards the depiction of violence on screen. How much is too much? And what does your acceptance of violence crossing boundaries on film, talk about you as a person? The film isn’t interested in judging you, it knows you’ll end up doing that after spending only 45 minutes. ‘Man Bites Dog’, despite its indiscriminate acts of violence does not glorify violence, it shuns it and the darkest humor lies in the cold joke it plays on your psyche. There’s a scene which resembles the iconic staircase scene in Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, and like Count Orlok, the psychopathic serial killer Benoit is surprisingly a man of values and aesthetics, crafty traits that are designed to attract you to a man who rapes a woman and opens her stomach. This is a very essential film for aspiring filmmakers because of the camerawork which is an achievement, despite its low budget and its utilization of the setting, converting apartments into suburban graveyards.
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