Five Awesome Found-Footage Horror Movies
With Halloween only a month away it's time to start highlighting some worthwhile horror movies to watch this October. Found-footage films seem to have been given a bad rap in the past couple of years, following the inevitable slew of Paranormal Activity sequels and knock-offs. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and hate on the genre but I always get the impression it comes from people that know nothing about the format beyond Oren Peli's movie and The Blair Witch Project.
So, in an attempt to persuade people to watch some more films full of sickness-inducing shaky-cam, here's five awesome found-footage horror movies.
1. The Last Broadcast - (1998) - Lance Weiler, Stefan Avalos
The Last Broadcast actually predates The Blair Witch Project by a couple of months and while Blair Witch got all the fame and attention (not to mention money), The Last Broadcast is secretly the better movie. While neither film actually started the found-footage style (that honour likely goes to Cannibal Holocaust) both were responsible for giving the format a revival in the mid-'90s. Similar to Blair Witch, The Last Broadcast has a bunch of intrepid filmmakers out wandering around in the middle of nowhere. Here, they're in search of the Jersey Devil as part of a late night TV show called Fact or Fiction.
Needless to say, things take a turn for the worse as most of the crew end up murdered and it's not at all clear who, or what, was responsible. Framed as a documentary examining what happened to the film crew, the film slowly pieces together the events that unfolded, and the twist and turns along the way make for some great viewing.
More than The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast actually has something to say about the medium that it is filmed in. The movie explores just what objectivity means in relation to documentaries, and questions how much we can really trust the people behind the camera.
2. The Last Exorcism (2010) - Daniel Stamm
Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism does what The Exorcism of Emily Rose failed to do: make a genuinely ambiguous possession movie. Ok, so most of the plot is cribbed straight from The Exorcist but you should have already assumed that. What The Last Exorcism does have going for it though, is two strong leads in Patrick Fabian, who plays a priest who's lost his faith, and Ashley Bell, who does a terrific job as a the potentially possessed family member.
After losing his faith, priest Cotton Marcus decides to bring along a film crew for his last exorcism, wanting to reveal the process as a sham. However, this last job proves to be a little more unsettling than normal as Nell Sweetzer, a shy girl from a conservative family appears to be exhibiting signs of demonic possession.
What makes the film so interesting is the ambiguity. It's not completely clear throughout the movie whether there is something supernatural going on, or whether Nell's reactions are the product of abuse of some kind. Filmmakers always seem tempted with these kinds of movies to go overboard, and attempt to ape The Exorcist in some way (Emily Rose is a prime example of this), and in doing so ruin any kind of suspense.
Instead The Last Exorcism takes the more difficult approach and leaves it ambiguous until the very end. This was helped by the fact that Ashley Bell carried out all of the horrible contortions without the aid of special effects, making the whole thing even more scarily plausible.
Unfortunately, the ending remains something of a disappointment, at least in contrast to the rest of the movie, and finishing with something more subtle would have undoubtedly been more memorable and haunting. Still, it's miles better than the horrible sequel that came out earlier this year and well worth checking out.
3. [REC.] - (2007) - Paco Plaza, Jama Balaguero
I usually hate it when reviewers refer to a movie as a "thrill-ride", largely because it's an over-used cliché, not to mention I have an issue with movies being compared to theme park rides. Still, at the risk of sounding a hypocrite, the best way to describe [Rec.] is as a theme park ride. After the set-up, this is balls to the wall horror all the way, and hardly ever lets up the pace.
Angela Vidal and her cameraman Pablo are filming a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the lives of fire-fighters in Barcelona. Following an emergency call from an apartment block, the fire crew and filmmakers arrive only to end up trapped in a quarantine zone after it turns out one of the tenants is infected with a highly contagious disease. Cue lots of running around and screaming as the infected zombies slowly whittle down the group of survivors.
The pacing works to the films advantage, if it took its foot of the accelerator for a second you'd be able to see the cracks in the movie and it wouldn't be nearly as effective. By constantly cranking up the tension however, you're not given a moments rest from the jump-scares and surprisingly creepy-looking zombies.
The film's ending came with a pretty good twist too, which prevented the sequel from simply being a complete rehash. While [Rec.] remains a great movie, avoid the American remake Quarantine, which axed the Spanish version's twist and had much weaker acting. Stick with the original and enjoy the scares.
4. The Bay - (2012) - Barry Levinson
The director responsible for Rain Man might seem like an odd choice for a horror flick, but Barry Levinson showed that he had the chops to creep people out with last years The Bay.
The best horror is usually based somewhat in real-life and in The Bay's case, it takes the already creepy Cymothoa exigua and explores what would happen if a bunch of them mutated and decided to infect humans. Moving between various groups of people, we get to see the seaside town slowly descend into panic as the mutated crustaceans begin to spread.
The Bay could easily have ended up being ridiculously hammy but by keeping things low-key and reserved for most of the movie, Levinson manages to freak out the audience much more.
5. Lake Mungo - (2010)- Joel Anderson
Don't search this on YouTube! The second video that comes up has a thumbnail that completely ruins a part of the movie. Right, with that warning over, if there's one film you decide to check out from this list, make it Lake Mungo.
Set-up as a mock-documentary, Lake Mungo investigates the death of fifteen year old Alice Palmer after her body is discovered drowned in a nearby lake. Her family, wrought with grief, soon find themselves experiencing strange circumstances in their home. It sounds like your typical ghost movie, but it really isn't. It's as much an exploration of one family's grief after the loss of a family member as it is a horror film.
Having said that, it's still a terrifying movie. Found-footage films tend to rely on shock for their effect (just see [Rec.]), Lake Mungo subverts this by instead making you feel uneasy and really getting under your skin. The pacing is perfect, with numerous twists throughout its runtime. The ending will just leave you cold with how simple, but so darn terrifying it is.
Fortunately, this movie is now much easier to get a hold of. Several years ago there wasn't even a Region 2 version so you had to get hold of an import. Now though it's seen several releases, so there's no excuse not to have checked out this independent Australian gem.