This article is part of ComicVerse’s October Holy Ghost-amole!! series! Check the rest of the articles out here!

Since the late ’90s, one of the most popular subsets of the horror genre has been “found footage.” The genre is enticing for up-and-coming filmmakers since it allows for lower-budgeted ideas: cheap cameras are often used, fancy movie sets break the mystique, and big-name actors need not apply.

The genre tends to divide audiences, however, with most either loving it or despising it. As the genre has progressed into the 21st century, one of the biggest criteria for a good movie of its kind, by lovers and haters alike, is still the question, “Well, is it believable?”

READ: The original vs the remake, the BLAIR WITCH and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

This question has become deeply nuanced since Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s 1999 film THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Often considered the first found footage movie, it has since inspired thousands of films with the same basic idea of the rugged, handmade horror movie. Hardly the first ever found-footage movie in general (the honor goes to Ruggero Deodato’s controversial CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST from 1980), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT isn’t even the first found footage movie with supernatural antagonists (that would be the Stephen Volk’s GHOSTWATCH from 1992).

the-blair-witch-project-4

But what we have to give THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT credit for is being the first movie to popularize the genre, and, for better or for worse, setting the standards for found footage movies since then.

CLICK: Craving something scary to watch before bed? Check out our list on the best indie horror films on YouTube!

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s premise was simple, yet effective: a group of students want to film a documentary about the supposed “Blair Witch” who haunts the backwoods of a small Maryland town. What they find is unsettling, and the film ends with all three students dead. The footage was “found” a year later.

Since then, audiences have grown to want more detailed, thoughtful found footage films, by and large expecting a film that could realistically take place in the real world. But horror films, by nature, deal with situations that frighten or disturb us beyond our comfort zone. When you add in a supernatural antagonist to the equation, the need to stay immersive becomes even more difficult to get right.

So the question stands: as moviegoers become more well-tuned to, and sometimes tired of, the found footage genre, what can filmmakers do to stay fresh and, ultimately, believable? Here is a list of the best found footage movies in the past two decades that managed to stay terrifying, unique, and immersive all at the same time.

1) NOROI (THE CURSE) (2005)

The first movie on this list is from the king of Japanese found footage horror, Koji Shiraishi, who has directed six found footage films since 2005, beginning with NOROI (THE CURSE). The film is perhaps the most traditional entry into the list, as it deals with a supernatural investigator named Masafumi Kobayashi who digs deep into an alleged deadly curse. The idea is simple, but the story is deeply complex—and almost shockingly long, clocking in at just under two hours.

CLICK: A brief history of the serial killers who have inspired some of horror’s best films

The intriguing, mysterious story is what makes this movie a departure from others of its kind, where simplistic plots almost take away the realism of the film. NOROI (THE CURSE) feels like a real documentary, heavily researched and curated. The lead investigator is about as nosy and curious as you would expect from most documentary filmmakers, and he uncovers a breadth of evidence, from Japanese variety shows to news segments to one-on-one interviews, that don’t make sense until you see the final, horrifying product. This attention to detail, while still delivering creepy imagery, also add to the realism of the movie.

In films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, you know almost immediately what you’re dealing with. NOROI (THE CURSE) keeps you guessing from start to finish, and thus is definitely worth the watch.

2) THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN (2013)

THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN has perhaps one of the most unique reasons for the camera being on at all moments, which is important for a genre where the audience yelling, “Stop filming! You’re being attacked by ghosts!!” at pivotal moments is common.

READ: 5 great horror comics to get you hyped for Halloween

Mia Medina and her film crew set out to make a medical documentary about Alzheimer’s disease with the elderly Deborah Logan, who is initially hesitant to be filmed. The crew documents and interviews Deborah in extreme detail, and soon her actions become increasingly bizarre. The film is genuinely creepy and unsettling, as we begin to realize that Deborah’s behavior is due to more than just her Alzheimer’s, and may be part of something more sinister.

The filmmaking is deliberate and the audience never asks why something is being filmed. In addition, the crew themselves behave normally: when things start to go south, one cameraman decides to just pick up and leave instead of staying to film. This is something audiences have always wondered about a genre that employs “cameramen” and narrators: the narrators tend to have more curiosity and a reason to stay, but there never really is a reason for a hired colleague to stay on until the bitter end.

But what carries this movie is the brilliant acting. Jill Larson plays Deborah Logan so well that the line between demonic possession and a legitimate mental illness becomes subtler than we anticipated, and we see in her performance a tragic story that could very well happen to the quiet old folks next door.

3) THEY’RE WATCHING (2016)

The most recent found footage film on this list, THEY’RE WATCHING is unique in its evolution from traditional horror to horror-comedy/parody in its final act.

THEY’RE WATCHING is a film about a camera crew traveling to a small town in Russia for an episode that is meant to be a replica of HGTV’s HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL (yes, really). The camera crew soon fall victim to a curse perpetuated by a centuries-old witch who is worshiped by the town. After angering the townspeople, the crew find themselves trapped in a home that may or may not be cursed by the witch herself.

SPOTLIGHT: Indie horror comic artist and creator Danielle Otrakji shares the method behind her madness

In the vein of THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN, we know exactly why we’re seeing the footage we’re seeing, and why the crew constantly has their cameras on. This is a group who had no intention of filming what they did, a shift from the more popular “ghost-seeker” type of found footage films.

At the climax, the film shows a crazy, balls-to-the-wall melee with the witch and the townspeople similar to the famous “monsters unleashed” scene from CABIN IN THE WOODS. The audience realizes here that the movie is actually parodying found footage’s emphasis on making “documentaries” as realistic as possible and does just the opposite. Up until this point, most of the filming decisions seemed standard and realistic to shock audiences with the final sequence.

A slightly hilarious deviation from standard tropes is that the footage wasn’t found by police officers, or put together by some secondary source. The witch just straight-up orders the surviving cameraman to show everybody she’s here, and she’s out for blood. Bizarre and funny, the film is a welcome departure from the found footage we’re used to.

4) V/H/S 2 (2013)

In a cinematic landscape where audiences are questioning not only of the plausibility of a found footage movie but are also tiring of the way many are shot (through shaky single cameras, by “professional” documentary crews, or by overhead surveillance), V/H/S 2 delivers on originality. The anthology horror series, beginning with V/H/S in 2012, spawned an even better sequel in 2013. The movie features short films that are framed under one central narrative: two private investigators go into the home of a missing boy and find unsettling tapes on his computer.

CLICK: Want some throwback thrillers? Check out what remakes can learn from 1986’s THE FLY

What the film does well is break from the standard perspective of found footage.T he film features stories shot from a man’s bionic eye, a GoPro attached to a biker, body cameras, and a camera attached to a dog. The first V/H/S made use of nanny-cams, hidden eyeglass cameras, and a video chatting service. Besides some parts of the absolutely brilliant SAFE HAVEN (this writer’s favorite short of the bunch), each is filmed from a first-person point of view.

V/H/S 2 also breaks from the standard found footage trope of filming just to film. In SAFE HAVEN, body cams are utilized because a news team is investigating a cult that isn’t letting them film certain areas of the facility. In SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION, the dog with the camera has it because some boys decided to strap it to their pooch. The audience never doubts the reason why the situations are being filmed, which tempers some of the less-than-realistic special effects that plague some segments. And the filming methods often add to the story: in PHASE I CLINICAL TRIALS, a man’s eye implant starts to go haywire, and he ends up seeing ghosts in his home.

In a world that’s constantly under surveillance and continually inventing new ways to film and record, V/H/S 2 shows us that to keep audiences entertained, filmmakers have to use technology creatively to stay ahead of the game.

5) HOME MOVIE (2008)

Like most people, my first ever experience with “homegrown” video has got to be home movies. Like AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS used them for comedy, this horror movie made use of them in the creepiest possible way.

CLICK: Creepy clowns got you down? Let’s go back to the beginning with Stephen King’s IT.

David and Clare Poe are a married couple: he’s a preacher and she’s a psychologist. Their children are showing signs of a disturbed evil, and each parent thinks they can use their talents (religion and science) to help their children. All this, of course, is filmed, primarily because Clare wants to document her children as she does her other patients. But beyond that, filming their children growing up and living in a new home is about as normal of a reason to have the cameras on as you can get, so the videotaped elements of the film pass the realism test.

The film becomes more unsettling as the children become more horrifying and grotesque, and their parents start to realize there is nothing they can do. The movie’s final few scenes are tense, as the parents aren’t the ones filming anymore: the children are, and it ain’t pretty.

I do hesitate to put this movie on a list that explores supernatural found footage, since you never really know if these kids are possessed by something malevolent or if they’re just psychopaths. Their parents never find out, and neither do we. But that’s what makes this movie realistic: home movies never truly have a beginning or an end, they’re just brief snapshots of a family’s life. Hopefully a little less terrifying than the Poes’, though.

6) LAKE MUNGO (2008)

I cap off this article by circling back to a more traditional entry like NOROI (THE CURSE). But to simply call LAKE MUNGO a ghost story isn’t doing it justice, since this Australian film is perhaps the most heartbreaking found footage movie of the past decade. The movie shines in its ability to remain realistic and intensely creepy for a movie that plays with the simplest of concepts: the restless spirit.

READ: Based on a true story, THE CONJURING 2. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The film is shot mockumentary-style about a family grieving the death of their daughter, Alice. They soon start to uncover creepy videos and photographs where Alice’s ghost appears, and they start to realize what Alice was going through in the months leading up to her death.

The movie burns very slowly, and it isn’t for at least 30 minutes before we start to see anything scary, but this adds to the film instead of detracting from it. The film paces itself slowly as we uncover small pieces of information that Alice gives us and we learn things as the family does. By and large, LAKE MUNGO is one of those movies where knowing as little as possible before watching is better for the experience.

But what really makes this movie a must-see are the actors. Like in THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN, the characters are so well-acted that you almost believe you’re watching a real documentary. Their grief is palpable and very nuanced.

Besides brilliant acting, the movie also plays with the popular, “ghost caught on cameras!” videos that we watch on YouTube. Most people don’t put a lot of stock into these short videos due to their blurriness and shakiness, and the idea that films like these can easily be tampered with. This is done for an interesting mid-movie twist that gives us a false sense of security before diving right back into the spooky, subtle story afterwards.

In the end, that’s what makes this movie one that stays with you for days after watching: there is a carefulness to the horror, a very human realism, especially in the scene where we travel to LAKE MUNGO and realize what happened to Alice. None of the scares are heavy-handed. Punctuated by the sadness of the family involved, the movie truly is an underrated found footage gem.

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!