Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Consisting mostly of cheap backdrops, amateur acting and headache-inducing camerawork, the subgenre of horror called found footage has never really been a favorite of mine. But while the majority of found footage horror tends to fall into forgettable territory, this style of storytelling that is stripped of a big budget production has its advantages as well. And that’s because in the hands of talented writers and directors, it’s low budget visuals, smaller casts and real-world style of cinematography can come together to create some truly memorable movies.
I always say, “you know you have something special, when you can get a non-fan to sit up and pay attention” and that’s exactly what the found footage movies on this list made this horror fan do! Here are my Top 7 Found Footage Horror Movies. Why seven? Well, we’re celebrating our 7th Anniversary on Robot Mango Reviews (previously Red Mango Reviews) so this week we wanted to do something special, giving you our Seven Best in all our favourite genres!
#7 Paranormal Activity
As an entire franchise, I think the Paranormal Activity movies are some of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. I actually refer to them as the Waiting for Activity movies! But Momma didn’t raise no liar and I have to admit the very first one, simply titled Paranormal Activity, did a fantastic job of playing on all my horror loving nerves.
The simple premise of a couple Katie and Micah who think they’re being haunted which leads to the latter pulling out the old home camera to film any ghostly goings on, utilises the found footage style to perfection, as the lack of a score, long moments of silence and shots focused on a single dark room left audiences filling in the blanks in chilling fashion. This all culminates to deliver a deeply unnerving watch. And just when you start to think you have an idea of what to expect next, director Oren Peli delivers a climax that probably left more than one audience member needing a change of underwear. Pacing aside, it’s hard to argue with the results as Paranormal Activity is now one of the most profitable horror movies of all time.
#6 Grave Encounters
By now I think I’ve watched at least 150 found footage movies, all based around a group of ghost hunters going someplace they shouldn’t, only for the camera to be the last one (or thing) standing. Ninety percent of the time they suck, but every now and again you get a Grave Encounters.
One of my biggest issues with found footage tends to be the unbelievable fact someone would hold on to a camera AND keep rolling while in fear for their lives, but the genius of a story like Grave Encounters is the trope makes sense. Actor Sean Rogerson is perfect as the douchebag host and leader of said group of ghost hunters, whose arrogance and desire to be the best combined with the fact that their show is on the verge of cancellation all comes together to add validity to why they would keep filming while angry spirits are knocking them off one by one.
The POV nature of the film and the fast-paced story works hand in hand to deliver genuine scares that were so good they made a sequel. Not a good sequel mind you, but it also doesn’t take anything away from this solid entry in the found footage sub-genre.
#5 The V/H/S Movies
I’m grouping these films together as this one doesn’t just go the found footage route, but also utilises anthology-styled storytelling to deliver on its scares. I would have to rewatch all five (so far) movies to be able to identify which ones I liked best and as of right now,
But I do know I’ve enjoyed multiple tales from the very first V/H/S right up to the most recent, V/H/S/99. Amateur Night (V/H/S) Safe Haven (V/H/S/2) Storm Drain (V/H/S/94) and The Subject (V/H/S/94) are just some of my favourites with Amateur Night being so well received, it got a spin-off movie called Siren. It’s the found footage style that sells these particular stories so effectively and even naysayers like me would have to admit most of these harrowing tales wouldn’t be half as effective with a big-budget polish put to them.
One of the newer entries in the genre, this film brilliantly goes the meta route of having its lead speak directly to the audience, which in turns draws you deeper into her nightmarish tale and leaves you with the uneasy feeling of possibly being affected by the curse yourself! While it’s not the first movie of its kind to do this, Incantation’s story of a young mother trying (and failing) to protect her child from a curse brought on by her past actions excels at drawing you in by jumping from the past (the origin of the curse) back to the present effects it has on her, her daughter and the people unlucky enough to be in their orbit.
Watching it reminded me of the feeling I get when playing a horror themed videogame. The sense that you’re directly involved with what’s playing out (especially in the final act when the mother asks the audience to recite a protection spell with her) ups the fear factor to 11 and in the process delivered a found footage movie that smartly utilises the style in unexpected ways.
#3 As Above So Below
I previously talked about this movie on my lists of Top Horror Movies I Hated (That I Now Love) and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had the experience of totally detesting a movie on first viewing, only to go back in with a fresh perspective to see it in a whole new light. As Above So Below makes a lot of smart choices, not the least of which is utilising found footage to deliver a claustrophobic point of view that puts viewers directly in the unfortunate shoes of these spelunking characters.
One of the reasons I think this movie grew on me the way it did was simply how much effort was put into crafting the story. Considering the subgenre, they could’ve easily just gone with a lazy tale of some young adventurers who decide to investigate the disturbing (and very real) Catacombs of Paris. Instead, screenplay writers John Erick Dowdle (also director) and Drew Dowdle chose to add supernatural layers that liken the tombs to the nine circles of hell found in Dante’s Inferno. Personally, this might just be the movie that made me change my mind about found footage in general. And after having rewatched it at least three or four times now, I have to say being wrong never felt so right.
#2 Lake Mungo
The Blair Witch Project famously launched into the stratosphere by pretending to be a true story and this mockumentary-styled story, considered to be the first found footage film, blazed the way for others like it. Personally, I think Blair Witch is overrated (bring on the torches!) because I think the movie that did this best (and with a lot less shaky cam) was Lake Mungo.
Shot entirely in a documentary-style and utilising unknown actors to add to the realism at play, Lake Mungo tells the story of a young woman named Alice who drowns while swimming with her family. Later on, her brother begins seeing what he believes to be the ghost of his sister and sets up cameras to hopefully capture the apparition.
This movie completely draws you into its mystery, keeping the tension drawn out until the very end when the story reveals what’s been right in front of you all along, immediately triggering your need to rewatch it again frame by frame. It also contains one of the most effective jump scares in horror movie history; never an easy thing to pull off. Found footage or not, Lake Mungo is, simply put, one of the best horror movies out there. The type that borrows under your skin and might just have your reaching for the night light as your brain decides to wander about the dark corners of your room at 2 am in the morning.
Honourable Mention: The Taking of Deborah Logan
The Taking of Deborah Logan blends supernatural fears with the very real fear a lot of us face when it comes to growing old and possibly losing ourselves and our memories to diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This found footage movie is well-paced and superbly acted by lead Jill Larson in the role of Deborah Logan but sadly fell under the radar for many in a year that delivered stellar entries like It Follows and The Babadook. Definitely worth a look.
While The Blair Witch Project might be hailed as the movie that launched the found footage genre, I think it’s the Spanish horror film Rec that made a lot of the genre’s writers and directors see what the subgenre was truly capable of. Following a reporter and her cameraman as they are covering the night shift in one of Barcelona’s fire stations, Rec truly shifts into high gear when the firefighters are sent to an apartment building to deal with an old woman who becomes aggressive when approached and bites one of them. The building is quickly put under lockdown by the military, and as things go from bad to worse, it becomes a fight for survival as Angela, her cameraman Pablo and the firefighters desperately search for a way out.
What elevates Rec above the rest for me is how deftly they avoid the pitfalls that can make found footage aggravating to watch. There are smart reasons for why the camera is always in use, the pacing never drags and yet it allows you moments to catch your breath and connect with the characters, and the shaky-cam elements never outstay its welcome but instead it builds on the tension in superb fashion. And don’t get me started on the night vision sequence. Chills!
This movie was so well received a shot for shot US remake was released no less than two years later in the form of Quarantine, which I didn’t hate but c’mon, why would you settle for a substitute when the real thing is right there?! There were also three direct sequels to Rec, with the final film dropping the found footage style completely. And while none of them lived up to the quality of the first movie, I did find them entertaining to varying degrees. Truly one of the best movies of the subgenre thus far, Rec and films like it are proof that found footage in the hands of talented writers and directors is an effective style more than worthy of its place in the annals of horror.
So that’s my list. Any found footage horror films you would add? Sound off in the comments. And you can check out more great horror lists below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
Double Tap Baby!
You left off Cloverfield! The best in my opinion. Granted, it’s a movie ab8ut an alien monster but it is full of horror and suspense.
Cloverfield is great. A Sci Fi action/thriller/monster movie but there are some horror elements