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There’s one somewhat controversial topic among fans of science fiction and horror cinema and that’s the “Found Footage” genre. If there’s one way to make hardcore horror fans foaming at the mouth, it’s bringing up that film style. Being a spin-off of the Exploitation Film, it’s expected to be hailed as schlock film making. Now, that’s not to say the entire genre is awful, because that’s just not true. While I’m a stubborn arse and abhor the genre through and through, I recognize that there are indeed some good films. Take Chronicle! It was a coming of age superhero film from a different perspective. And ya know what? I’m not sure if the film would have had the same impact if it was done as a traditional style movie. Granted, this isn’t a horror picture. And controversial opinion time, for being a wretched film that spawned a worse trend, I find Cannibal Holocaust to be a fascinating film. In the end, the film makers were the real horrors, not the tribe they were trying to exploit (despite some actions we wouldn’t find acceptable under any means.) Again, it’s not a good movie (and probably illegal), but it’s still an interesting one. And take The Blair Witch Project. I’m not a fan, but I can admit that parts of it were pretty suspenseful and well crafted. It was basically a documentary with weird stuff thrown in, as the actors didn’t know what to expect either. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the few bits I can admire. I’m here to talk about a relentless fad that makes horror fans shriek in disgust. So, since the fun part of this ends, let’s have at it… after a bit of whiskey!
First thing’s first, I feel that the sudden obsession with found footage is a lot like another Hollywood fad; trying to be “realistic.” And by realistic, I mean hip “edginess” because GRIMDARK is cool. The problem with this is smearing shit on your lens and having a cast that’s so ‘brutal’ we can’t relate to them doesn’t make your picture more realistic, it just makes it awful. A lot of found footage gets lost in that faux-real smugness all too easily, but you can blame the pseudo-documentary approach for that… since you’re making it seem more “believable” or something that way. In the end, this attempt at realism isn’t any different from other edgy gimmicks used to reel in the gullible portions of a young market. To say this is a new phenomenon is absurd! As long as there’s been a market for young audiences, there has been stupid gimmicks to try to hook them in. Perhaps we’re noticing this try-hard formula because it has tainted the realms of horror to a great extent.
One of the most appealing aspects of cinema is of course the visual aspect. In most FF movies, you don’t get that. Instead, you get a 2 hour motion sickness simulator with a blurred image of a monster that looks more fake than a mask from a dollar store. Of course, there are FF movies that do look visually interesting, such as Chronicle. That said, if you’re going to fake a level of authenticity, you need to go that extra mile. But, if you dump countless dollars into making an awful that looks like garbage, then you’ve just wasted a good chunk of change on a messy pile of nothing. And if all I’m seeing is a camera image flailing all over, I don’t get scared from something in the movie, I get scared that the camera operator is having epileptic shock. What baffles me is films of the variety are sometimes edited to look even worse than they are. I don’t see the point of trying to intentionally display your work as mediocre. It’s like the post-production team knows their project is awful and wants to make a more ‘honest’ movie. Now, I’m not trying to trash first time film makers who don’t have the budget or experience to create the end all be all of cinema. I personally know the struggle of trying to piece a low budget project together, the thing fell apart and nearly left me completely wrecked! I’m talking about people going out of their way to craft something pitiful. But, we live in an era where creating Sharknado is perfectly acceptable, thanks to “ironic” humor.
When it comes to horror within the genre, it typically comes down a formula, which I call “The Slender formula.” Long story short, a whole lot of nothing happens and then cue a jump scare. Sometimes it’s just a random noise or a monster briefly showing up. My favorite example of this is the Paranormal Activity series. If you think paper-thin suspense leading to a door closing is scary, I have to wonder how our boring and mundane world doesn’t leave you continuously terrified. But hey, when you have “scare cams” as one of the most popular fads on youtube, I guess I can see why people are amused by this sort of thing.
There’s tons of other problems with the Found Footage fad, but a lot of them come back to one thing… US! Film viewers! It’s not so much that the genre is falling apart, but that we’re supporting mediocrity. We condone bad quality and have become afraid to criticize it. To blame every film maker who puts out shitty remakes and stupid films in general (i.e. Michael Bay) is ludicrous. If there wasn’t an audience of knuckle heads to spur on that kind of movie, I’m sure those film makers would make MUCH MUCH better movies. But, since too many favor instant gratification and quick ‘n’ easy entertainment regardless of quality, this sort of problem exists. Now, if schlock wasn’t acceptable, I’m sure Found Footage can really be pushed as a fascinating art medium.