I’m a bit of a latecomer to the found footage subgenre. I originally hated it, and I admit this is mostly due to me seeing Paranormal Activity 2 in theatres with a friend who enjoyed them, without seeing the first one myself. I found it incredibly boring and anticlimactic, with the majority of the film being static home security cameras with a few jump scares thrown in for good measure.
Since then I’m happy to report I gave it another chance and realized what my issue with found footage was: not enough backstory. You’ll find that most of my faves on this list are told in a documentary style, which I find fleshes out the story and makes you actually invested in the characters. Horror sometimes feels like you have to wade through a lot of mediocre films to find the gems. This is why I’d like this list to be for people who are looking to give found footage another chance as I did.
What better way to start this list than with a film that pays tribute to one of the original found footage hits, The Blair Witch Project, and even features Eduardo Sánchez in an in-universe interview. In Butterfly Kisses, Gavin discovers a series of videotapes in his parent’s basement made by a young woman named Sophia. Sophia and her friends are making a movie about a folklore legend named Peeping Tom or Mr. Blink, who is said to haunt you after you look at a tunnel without blinking. Afterward, every time you blink he will get closer. And closer. Until he eventually gets you. Gavin becomes obsessed with the footage, traveling around to check its authenticity and diving deeper into the story of Peeping Tom. It feels like a way to pay homage to older films in the genre while exploring new ways to tell stories, and I loved it.
I like Savageland because it tells its story after the main events have already happened with the filmmakers going over them in detail with timestamps, photo “evidence”, and even a 3D map of the small town. It gives it a wonderful elaborated feeling that many films seem to find unimportant. I want to know what happened to this town, to these people. We’re given interviews with family, neighbors, and people who were involved in the investigation with their personal opinions on what happened. It also touches on racial prejudices in a very real way. Many small towns exist just like this, blaming the one person of color for their misfortunes. It’s a sad reality and an interesting angle for a horror flick.
This right here is the film that brought me back in and made me realize “oh wait, I DO like found footage.” The Tunnel follows journalist Natasha and her small team as they are following a lead around a series of tunnels under the city of Sydney, Australia. First there because of rumors of homeless people living in them, the story expands to reveal a truly terrifying creature hiding so close to us. I think it’s one of the more interesting monsters I’ve seen, with clear intelligence and malice. It’s a good spooky story without going too far, leaving a bit of mystery adds to the terror.
I’ve watched Lake Mungo several times now, and I feel like I get more out of it with each viewing. The Palmer family is mourning the loss of their daughter Alice, who drowned. It’s a good glimpse into how different people deal with grief and how it affects those around them. As we learn more about Alice, her family, and her seemingly normal small town, we’re reminded that everyone has secrets. I also love that while there was an outline for the script, the actors mainly improvised their scenes. It feels more natural like these are real people dealing with a tragedy than characters.
I found it quite interesting after the fact to discover this was made by Barry Levinson, award-winning director of Rain Man and Good Morning, Vietnam. It feels like a huge change of style and genre from his usual work that you’d think would turn out terrible, but maybe that’s why it works—having that outside perspective. The Bay is told through “recently leaked” footage of a seaside Chesapeake Bay town, where people are becoming rapidly sick from an unknown source. Some shots are frankly disgusting and that makes it sink in even further how horrible this would be. It’s also not often you see isopods in films as monsters!
André Øvredal may now be best known for directing The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but before he broke ground in Hollywood, he had great success in his home country of Norway with Trollhunter. Originally following a man named Hans who is suspected of being a bear poacher, three young filmmakers soon discover he hunts a much bigger and more dangerous prey: trolls. I love the idea of traditional folklore creatures in a more modern setting, and they go into their behavior and traits (such as being able to “smell Christian blood”) adding just enough details to fill in the blanks. The CGI effects are also pretty good-looking, with the shadows and way they move never taking you too far out of the story.
Looking for more on found footage films? We’ve got you: