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The Found Footage Phenomenon – A brilliantly crafted documentary

5 mins read

Frightfest presents The Found Footage Phenomenon; book festival tickets here.

If you’re a fan of the found footage genre, you no doubt have a cherished title that started your fascination. Maybe it was The Blair Witch Project; perhaps it was Paranormal Activity – for some, it was Rec; for others, it was Troll Hunter. Hell, it may even be Cloverfield or Chronicle. Its gritty and authentic cinematic style sucking you in, almost as though you have found the footage yourself. Found footage is undoubtedly one of the most beguiling filmmaking styles; it seems easy, yet it is devilishly tricky to pull off. But whether you’re a fan or expert scholar of the format, Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott’s The Found Footage Phenomenon will have something for you. 

Appleton and Escott’s documentary dives deep into the sub-genre to interrogate what found footage means. Perhaps it’s the feeling of seeing something you’re not supposed to see or its ‘POV Cinema’ heritage. Here the connection between these styles finds a voice as we explore the driving force that brings a sense of authenticity to the unreal. The documentary brings together a fantastic spread of found footage veterans, from Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Michael Goi (Paranormal Activity) to André Ovreal (Troll Hunter), as well as critics and scholars like Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.


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As we explore where the found footage sub-genre is today, we also explore its adoption in big-budget blockbusters as a stylistic tool—for example, Cloverfield and Chronicle. However, Its roots are held firmly within indie filmmaking. After all, it’s difficult to convince someone that a giant alien monster wrecked New York City on a low budget. But you can convince someone that three college students who went into the woods never returned. 

Unlike mainstream horror, found footage doesn’t have the defence of “it’s not really real.” In fact, the magic of the found footage format is its ability to make you believe that what you’re seeing is real. Here the format is built around its attachment to the simplicity of modern-day filming, whether through mobile phones, film cameras or webcams. We all interact with these things daily, creating an oddly personal tension between the film and its audience. Meanwhile, the documentary intelligently looks back at the origins of the found footage format, linking its creation to Victorian gothic horror. For example, how did the literary style of Dracula and Frankenstein inspire the found footage format? The literary cues they created dovetailed with our modern-day obsession with video.


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The Found Footage Phenomenon also explores the continual development of the format and its links to our 24/7 news coverage. For example, the effect of 9/11 on the found footage format and the shared cultural trauma we endured. In many ways, our whole world now functions on found footage, including our news media. For example, while found footage in the 1990s was, in part, a commentary on the media being constructed, the line between fact-and-fiction ambiguous – for example, BBCs Ghostwatch. That line now feels as though it’s been erased. Therefore is it possible that found footage is now less horror based and more political? These debates deserve a whole documentary to themselves as we explore the changing face of world media.

I am sure there will always be a place for our love of found footage in horror within our changing world. For example, look at Rob Savage’s Host and how it presented found footage in the new context of global isolation that felt intimately personal. The Found Footage Phenomenon is an expertly crafted slice of cinematic literature, with thoughtful contributions from the brightest and boldest of those using the genre. And if you’re a fan of the found-footage format, then this is undoubtedly a must-see.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

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