“When found footage is done well, it feels like you’re watching real people in real situations. And that means that there are real stakes. It’s subversive.”
Origin/Director: USA/Phillip Escott, Sarah Appleton
Viewings Tally: This was my first viewing! It was recommended to me by some friends via the Letterboxd app. If you’re a found footage fan, this is a must!
Synopsis: The documentary tracks the origins of the found footage technique and how it transformed with technological changes throughout the last few decades. [Letterboxd]
Reely Bernie’s Take: My middle brother and I took on a challenge instigated by the Denver newspapers to witness “found footage” on the big screen. It was a little indie doc called The Blair Witch Project, and it premiered at the Mayan Theatre in late July, 1999.
Missing posters for the “characters” of the movie were plastered on the exterior walls of the theatre, and the general feeling of the audience was that we were about to watch something discovered and unedited. Such a genre or concept in film had been done before but never to the degree of a marketing ploy by unknown actors and filmmakers who disappeared before our eyes in the story and after the movie’s release. It was a brilliant, horrifying experience.
It was all too real.
My brother and I couldn’t wait to share the fear with our friends and family after our first viewing.
The Found Footage Phenomenon explores the origins of the found footage genre, the mock “snuff” movies of the 70s, the “missing documentary” clips of movies like Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and the subgenres that emerged from this voyeuristic phenomenon.
After the The Blair Witch Project, almost a hundred of found footage movies have been made, and this documentary interviews all the directors who made their mark on the pop culture explosion. Some minuscule budget knockoffs still hold up today (Paranormal Activity and Creep), and so do the bigger budget hits (Cloverfield). Yet, with more than twenty years of exposure, the interviewees all agree that it’s quite impossible to capture that same awe of disbelief when all the tricks of the trade (family camcorders, cellphones, security footage, webcams, etc.) have been utilized.
Although at times a circle jerk battle of pretentiousness among directors (I mean, one of them refuses to be interviewed without a camera attached to his chest!), this is a worthy celebration of a horror subgenre that got people screaming in the theatres again. If anything, it’s a nostalgic treasure for moviegoers like me who stepped into the first mainstream found footage hit of all time in 1999.
You can find this doc through Prime Video by subscribing and to a 7-day trial with the Shudder Channel. It’s free if you cancel within 7 days, and the movie is definitely worth it.
The Shot that Won’t Let Go:
Final Score: 4 Blackwell Ghosts (my favorite, overlooked and overdone found footage movie) out of 5
Happy (Early) Reely Bernie Horror Fest,