From the Voices in my Head: in Praise of Found Footage

I love found footage horror.

I’m well aware that this sentiment puts me directly in the cross hairs of horror movie snobs–of whom, I am usually a card-carrying member–as found-footage hatred has been very much in vogue these past few years. But, as indicated before, not only am I comfortable expressing a minority opinion, I’ve become so accustomed to supporting the minority opinion on so many issues that I feel slightly uncomfortable agreeing with the majority.

So, again–I unapologetically and unreservedly love found-footage horror.

Granted, there are plenty of shit found-footage horror movies; the fact that they can be made relatively cheaply enables too many talentless hacks who should not even be allowed to go near a camera. Ever. Not even to make home movies or set up a Tik Tok account. But–second unpopular opinion imminent–most horror is shit, especially mainstream horror. It’s just a sad fact. Granted, we are in the midst of a horror renaissance, especially since streaming-resurrected VOD horror no longer means being doomed to the .89 cent bin at Long’s Drugstore. Plain fact is, it’s goddamn difficult to make a quality movie that by its very nature is illogical. I honestly believe that, excepting comedy, it’s more difficult to make a non-stupid horror movie than all the other genres combined.

But found-footage has been ridiculously unfairly maligned. Even many horror-exclusive critics express knee-jerk hostility and contempt for found-footage films and have their knives out for found-footage before opening credits roll. It’s yet another example of reverse Emperor’s New Clothes–when everybody mocks the Emperor for being nekkid before he even comes into view. So…everybody hates found-footage and yet found-footage keeps being made, so obviously, somebody besides me likes them and most likely for the same reason: the documentary-style of well-made found-footage feels authentic (hold your damn sneer; I’ll get to that)…and that “fauxthenticity” (yes, I made that up and no, I’m’ not apologizing) can be a goddamn effective way of achieving the Good Scare.

And the reason found-footage works is the same reason mumblegore (ugh…I’ll address both name and subgenre in a later post) works–its low budget. That may sound counter-intuitive, but when horror creators are forced to work within the confines of a small or even micro budget, they can’t afford established actors or over-the-top special effects...both of which can be distracting. I give far less of a shit about a Sarah Michelle Gellar pretending to be scared than I do a no-named actress, because it’s easier to believe that they are the character and not Gellar playing the character. And while special effects can truly add to the horror, I have found the home-grown type of special effects used in mumblegore and found-footage are far more effective than goddamn CGI, which is another massive distraction, usually looks ridiculous and all too often is used as a lazy substitute for true creativity. The amateurish shaky cam and less-than-quality film stock also makes it easier to forget that you’re watching a movie, rather than a mysterious video of hapless, ordinary schmucks who almost invariably come to a bad end.

Having said all that, I agree that found-footage can be problematic. With the exception of one found-footage I’ve seen (Afflicted), they all suffer from same major obstacle: when being chased by the Big Bad, any sane person who has an IQ hovering around room temperature and possessing any will to live at all would throw that goddamn camera down and fuck off unencumbered…never mind the limitless battery in the apparently impossibly impervious-to-damage camera. That requires suspending the shit out of some disbelief. I’ll admit that if you think about it too much, it rightfully feels like an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Afflicted manages to get around this by going out of their way to point out that their fancy camera costs $30,000. Personally–and I don’t think I’m alone, here–I’d probably clutch that motherfucker all the way to hell before I would drop it. They also have a clever explanation for their unique lack of the dreaded shaky-cam–said $30,000 camera is strapped onto their chest with a special anti-shake harness. But obviously this wouldn’t work in movies like Hell House, LLC, Final Prayer, Houses October Built or any other found-footage in which the people refusing to drop the camera are rank amateurs who aren’t very goddamn likely to be schlepping around $30,000 cameras.

Which, admittedly, is a huge issue with found-footage. It’s ridiculous, really. Completely unrealistic.

Unlike coffin-dwelling immortals who feed on human blood–which entails sucking up about 10 pints at a time–and can only be killed by fire, decapitation or sunlight. Or sentient creatures patchworked in dead people parts. Or a mute, mindless serial killer who gets killed, again and again, yet returns, again and again…even after being decapitated. A sassy, razor-fingered, parboiled bastard son of a thousand maniacs, who kills kids in their sleep. A trio of humans who get shot in a Bonnie and Clyde hail of bullets…and returns for a sequel. A human who can 360 whip their head around, demon be damned. Murderous dolls. Puzzle box summoned psycho-sexual sadistic hell-dwellers. A killer boar the size of a Suburban. Seemingly ordinary people who turn into upright furry gut-eaters every full moon…and who can only be killed by a silver bullet….

Let’s face it–comparatively speaking, refusing to ditch your camera whilst running for your life seems downright reasonable…and yet, people bitch and moan about how “unrealistic” found-footage is. Frankly, I don’t understand how anybody can become a true horror connoisseur without perfecting the fine art of suspending disbelief…nor can I understand why a horror fan would cherry-pick the times they decide to do so…and yet, I have been virtually eye-rolled by several dismissive, self-proclaimed horror fans who seems to view me and any other fan of found-footage as drool-lipped jumpscare junkies.

Don’t get me wrong–everybody is entitled to their opinion and individual tastes; it’s their reasons for hating found-footage that I find silly. And unfortunately for these folks, this probably won’t be the blog to follow, because I by god will talk about some of my favorite found-footage, including an upcoming post on the aforementioned Afflicted, a superior, micro-budgeted found-footage that does not deserve its relative obscurity.

…and speaking of undeserved obscurity, my next post will be on the bewilderingly underrated The Devil’s Candy, one of the best horror movies made in the past few years. Not sure why it didn’t get a wider release, but thanks to streaming, it is quickly becoming a cult classic and I am champing at the bit to over-analyze the shit out of it. It’s that good.