Using handheld cameras and practical effects, “found footage” style films are meant to blur the line between reality and fiction. “Found footage” films typically feature a group of amateur filmmakers stumbling upon a terrifying mystery or monster, almost always with deadly results. Movie studios love found footage style films due to their relatively small budgets and terrifyingly large box office earnings. A great example of this is Paranormal Activity, which earned over $193 million dollars on a filming budget of just $15,000. Paramount turned the horror movie to a major movie franchise, with the sixth and final installment coming out this weekend. To commemorate the end of Paranormal Activity, let’s take a look back at five of the best “found footage” style of movies:
The Blair Witch Project
For many movie fans, The Blair Witch Project was their first experience with the found footage style of film. A low budget horror movie, The Blair Witch Project followed three amateur filmmakers as they searched for signs of a legendary witch that supposedly haunted the woods around a town in Maryland. No actual ghosts or monsters appeared in the film (the $22,000 filming budget wouldn’t allow for it), so the filmmakers instead relied on subtle creepy visuals like mysterious wooden cairns and the unscripted reactions from the actors to build suspense.
The Blair Witch Project was a groundbreaking film, not only because it popularized the “found footage” style of horror films, but also because it was an early example of using viral marketing and the Internet to promote the film. Movie producers implied the events in the film were real and even claimed that the actors in the movie had gone missing during production. The viral marketing seemed to work, as the movie was a smash hit at the box office, earning over $250 million in theatres.
The closest thing we have to a shaky cam comic book movie is Chronicle, a movie written by known comics enthusiast Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank. Chronicle stars three teenage boys who gain telekinetic powers after finding an unknown object in the woods. As the boys discover the extents of their powers, one of the boys takes a dark turn, leading to a violent and public confrontation in the skies over Seattle. The movie gained praise for its darker and “more real” depiction of superpowers.
Chronicle unofficially launched the superhero careers of actors Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan, who went on to star in Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Fantastic Four. Director Josh Trank also became a hot commodity in Hollywood after Chronicle became a hit in theaters. After turning down several science-fiction/geek themed movie projects, Trank signed on to direct a new solo Star Wars film (rumored to be a Boba Fett solo film) and the Fantastic Four reboot. However, Trank later became the center of controversy after Fantastic Four flopped and he dropped off the Star Wars project, citing that he didn’t want to do another big budget film.
Drawing heavily from Norwegian folklore and mythology, Troll Hunter is a found footage style film about a group of students who discovers an alleged bear poacher is actually hunting much bigger and deadlier prey. In the film, trolls are real creatures hidden from the public and hunted when they wander too close to civilization or become aggressive. While not obvious to American audiences, Troll Hunter referenced several Norwegian fables and fairy tails about trolls, including trolls’ weakness to sunlight, which JRR Tolkien had previously used in The Hobbit. Although not as commercially successful as the other movies mentioned in this article, Troll Hunter gained a cult following in America, especially when the film hit Netflix in the fall of 2011.
When a planned movie adaptation of the video game Halo didn’t pan out, Peter Jackson and new movie director Neill Blomkamp collaborated on a “shaky cam” style film called District 9, which mixed South African political issues with science fiction. In District 9, a large population of aliens nicknamed Prawns arrives in a spaceship that floats motionless over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. The South African government relocates the aliens into a government camp, where they live in near poverty for nearly 30 years. After a government backed corporation begins moving the aliens to a new camp, one bureaucrat inadvertently is exposed to a fluid that slowly transforms him into one of the aliens. Audiences loved the mixture of action, sci-fi and deep political theme and the movie earned over $210 million in box offices. The movie also earned several Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
In 2007, a two minute trailer showing an unknown force tossing the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty into the streets of New York City appeared before Transformers. No one (outside of the movie’s creators) knew anything about the film and the trailer didn’t give a movie title, just a release date for January 8 the following year. The Internet exploded with speculation, suggesting that the unknown movie could be anything from a Godzilla remake to a live action Voltron movie.
The result was Cloverfield, a JJ Abrams produced found footage film about a monster’s rampage through New York City. Abrams’ company had filmed Cloverfield in secret and refused to release any information about the film, which just built more anticipation for the film. Cloverfield featured a group of residents who actually ventured deeper into the city to save a friend trapped during the monster’s tear through Manhattan. To help build tension, the monster wasn’t fully seen until near the end of the movie, as the National Guard made one last attempt to kill the creature before it turned to carpet bombing all of Manhattan to stop the monster. Cloverfield was a hit in theatres, making over $170 million, and producers have long hinted at a sequel (although they’d probably film it in secret like the first movie).