“The Found Footage Phenomenon” – Movie Review

One of the often-overlooked collections on Shudder is its “Diabolical Documentaries” lineup, which includes a myriad of great non-fiction deep dives into the genre that we all love.  Among them are Shudder originals like the critically acclaimed Cursed Films and Horror Noire.

Shudder’s latest original film The Found Footage Phenomenon is a worthy addition to this collection.  Tracing the origin of the subgenre itself and analyzing its effectiveness, the film features interviews with a wide variety of filmmakers, and serves as a fascinating retrospective in a group of movies tied together by their storytelling style.

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These three films are often cited as the “beginning” of Found Footage, but it goes back so much further than that. (L to R: Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity)

Origins of Found Footage
Horror has always been a reflection of the fears/anxieties of the times.  It has also always evolved with the technologies of the time to create new ways to scare people. Beginning as fake documentaries and evolving with the availability of home video recording, the Found Footage subgenre remains one of the most unique when it comes to horror.

It’s distinguished not by traits of his subject matter, but rather its very style and presentation.  The various interviewees trace the subgenre’s genesis going all the way back to 1960’s Peeping Tom, the first film to use the POV style from the camera itself, thus making the camera a character.  We then move to fake documentaries (Cannibal Holocaust, Ghostwatch) to characters utilizing home video tech to capture supernatural events (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity) to entire horror films taking place on videochat apps (Unfriended, Searching, Host).

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The ones that feel more like home movies have an authenticity that can’t be matched.

Between the numerous interviews with many directors of the very films being discussed, the documentary traces the lifespan of Found Footage and brings into our current world.  All while providing countless examples of historical/cultural events that were affecting what we wanted to see on screen.

Effectiveness of Found Footage
There’s a reason that Found Footage is usually a very polarizing subgenre.  The mere mention of it can often cause eyerolls among fans, and the documentary explores why that is.  At its inception, films like Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch Project attempted to trick their audiences that the footage they were seeing was real and not scripted.  Paranormal Activity was presented in a similar sense, however from there the genre really took off, but with it came the backlash.

One of the interviewees points out that there’s really two types of Found Footage: films that use the medium as part of the narrative, and films that easily could have been shot traditionally but choose the style for aesthetic purposes.  The former tends to use the style to its advantage and often crafts creative stories.  While the latter often feels cheap and soulless.

And to be fair, following the success of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, you did see a boom in Found Footage movies, many of which weren’t the best.  Even the legendary George A. Romero attempted to cash in one the craze and he himself admitted that Diary of the Dead was one of his weaker films.  And most would agree that once major studios started getting involved, the result was well-polished, higher budgeted movies that were pretending to be amateur, but it was obvious they weren’t.  Aside from a few outliers (particularly As Above, So Below), most independent Found Footage movies play out much better than the studio produced ones.

Highlighting Found Footage
Ultimately however, the best thing that The Found Footage Phenomenon documentary does is bring attention to lesser known horror gems that are definitely unknown to the general public, and even some that are unknown to seasoned horror fans.  While it certainly does its due diligence in discussing the previously mentioned groundbreakers, it focuses less on big budget mainstream movies, and more on the indie side.

Brutal underground films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Megan is Missing, Hate Crime, and many others are featured at length, and in doing so, provides the audience with a slew of new movies to check out in order to expand their horror knowledge.  The film not only works as a celebration of horror cinema, but leaves its viewer thirsting for more, and provides a list of titles to seek out!

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Megan is Missing remains chillingly effective, however it’s very difficult to get through.

What did you think of The Found Footage Phenomenon?  What are some of your favorite Found Footage horror movies?  Let us know in the comments!

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