September 2, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Found Footage Films

Director Gonzalo López-Gallego’s Apollo 18 comes out in theaters today and bases its plot on the discovery of some harrowing footage captured by two astronauts on a 1974 secret mission to the moon. Does this storyline sound familiar? Well, that would be because “found footage” flicks, first made famous with Cannibal Holocaust in 1980 and three decades later by the notorious The Blair Witch Project, are now an established genre of filmmaking. A substantial part of those films is presented as an edit of recovered footage, left behind by missing or dead protagonists The success of the “found footage” genre depends on the audience feeling that what they are seeing is real--cue the shaky camerawork and banal locations and characters for added realism. So, try to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief long enough to read the following list of films!




The Fourth Kind (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 50


The Fourth Kind is a psychological thriller involving a federal cover up in one Alaskan town which has seen a large number of unexplained disappearances during the past 40 years. The movie takes a hybrid approach by combining “real footage” and audio recordings with “reenactments” by actual actors and switches (often within the same scene) between the “real” and “reenactment” footage. This is further compounded by the use of flashbacks and the wrapping of the overall narrative within interview scenes.





The Last Exorcism (2010) -- MRQE Metric: 64


The Last Exorcism (produced by Hostel director Eli Roth) uses the form of the found footage/mockumentary horror film to good effect by following a preacher who has been conducting fraudulent exorcisms for years, and now wants to clear his conscience by capturing them on camera. But his final exorcism may just be the real deal. This gruesome horror movie side-steps the sub-genre framework with the introduction of non-diagetic sounds and the shifting of the editorial perspective which reveal there must have been two cameras present to capture the events.




Paranormal Activity (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 72


"Paramount Pictures thanks Micah and Katie for all their recordings of the supernatural phenomena that had happened to them." Talk about an opening line for surprise horror movie hit Paranormal Activity, which is still remembered for its genius marketing campaign capturing the frightened reactions of viewers during an early screening. (Post-modern or what?) Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston decide to document their experience on film when Katie believes that she has been followed by a supernatural entity. The strength of Paranormal Activity resides in setting the action in everyday locations (a house; a bedroom) leaving the viewers to constantly look over their shoulders when leaving the theater. 




[Rec] (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 78



[Rec] follows reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her off-screen cameraman, Pablo (voiced by Pep Sais) as they shoot their documentary television series While You’re Asleep. When they accompany firefighters to an apartment complex in Barcelona, they encounter a rabid woman and become trapped in the building with other contaminated individuals. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza build up the tension with shaky camera effects, interruptions in sound when an infected person strikes the microphone, and dropping the camera angle on the floor during an attack to shows us very little. The ending also makes very good use of the night vision lens during a nightmarish hide-and-seek sequence in the apartment where the source of the contamination came from. 




Redacted (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 59



Redacted is one of a number of cinematic protests against the Iraq War and the withholding of information and images from the U.S. public. Brian De Palma makes his case by fashioning a cinematic collage of found footage taken from disparate sources: an American soldiers’ video journal, a French documentary, a security camera at the edge of an army compound, and streaming video online from insurgents and military families. This is a work of fiction using real actors, meaning that De Palma employs different angles and point of views to demonstrate that during wartime, the first casualty is truth.




Diary of the Dead (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 67



George Romero, you can do no wrong in our book! Diary of the Dead doesn't focus on the verisimilitude of its found-footage concept but chooses to make an allegory (as in all of Romero’s movies) about American people’s “zombified” relationship to the media. This gory horror flick gives a new spin on the zombie genre by incorporating a found footage theme (security-camera tapes, cell phone footage) and characters obsessed with social media, as character Jason Creed (Joshua Close) constantly edits his documentary film The Death of Death to upload on MySpace instead of helping out other protagonists. Scarily, this doesn’t seem so far-fetched…




Man Bites Dog (1992) -- MRQE Metric: 77


When it comes to dark comedies, Man Bites Dog sets the tone to pitch-black. This Belgian media satire portrays a documentary camera crew filming the harrowing murders of a serial killer. Old ladies, children, nobody is safe from the demented Ben. Even more disturbing is the fact that the camera crew begins to take part in Ben’s killings after a while. The savage ending is a gold-mine for lovers of the “found footage” genre: After the crew and Ben get shot at, the camera is dropped onto the ground and records the death of the fleeing sound engineer.



Cloverfield (2008) -- MRQE Metric: 73



This might only apply to New York City residents but if you have ever felt annoyed by young and affluent Manhattanites, Cloverfield is the movie for you: over the course of an hour-and-a-half, a gang of attractive modern day yuppies encounter a monster of unknown origin, hell-bent on destroying the Big Apple. The film is presented as footage taped with hand-held video camera recovered by the United States Department of Defense in the area "formerly known as Central Park." In a smart marketing ploy, Cloverfield is exactly the length of a DV Tape and a sub-plot is established by showing bits and pieces of video previously recorded on the tape that is being recorded over. Also watch out for the John Carpenter-inspired moment when the head of the Statue of Liberty comes raining down towards our hapless protagonists.




The Blair Witch Project (1999) -- MRQE Metric: 74



The Blair Witch Project gets a special award for introducing the found-footage genre to a larger audience and spawning countless imitations. The low-budget flick garnered much buzz when it first came out as the studios put the emphasis on the film being an authentic case of lost footage. I mean, did anyone actually really believe that?! I’ll let the on-screen introduction do the talking: "Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend . . . The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two-day hike to find the Blair Witch, and never came back. One year later, the student’s film and video was found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project." Mwah hah ha ha ha…




Trollhunter (2010) -- MRQE Metric: 70




I simply had to put Trollhunter number one on our list, just because it’s set in Norway and features trolls . . . giant trolls. I mean, what could be cooler than that? On a more serious note, Trollhunter brings a breath of fresh air to the often stale, conventional found-footage genre. As is often the case in European movies, Trollhunter doesn’t shy away from gentle satire and takes countless prods at religion in general. Also, watch out at the end of the final credits for the notice in English claiming that, "No trolls were harmed during the making of this movie."


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