The Found Footage Phenom.

“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:

I realize we now know these tears were fake and acted, but at the time of their release, these were genuine tears of fear in the most real scenario of being haunted by a witch in the woods. No, seriously. (I guess you had to be there.)

Final Score: 4 Blackwell Ghosts (my favorite, overlooked and overdone found footage movie) out of 5

Happy (Early) Reely Bernie Horror Fest,


12 thoughts on “The Found Footage Phenom.

Add yours

    1. QFC, I’m just honored you read my post, and I agree with your review on The Blackwell Ghost, which – as with all these found footage types today – doesn’t age well with our aged suspension of disbelief on the “found footage” trope. It also goes without saying that the leads will be annoying, and you’re kind of ready for hell to unleash on them; the movies gradually amp up to a point where you just want to fast forward to the end for the big rabbit out of the hat reveal; and, they are all short. Hey, at least they are all short, and like you said, there are always Seinfeld reruns. Great stuff. I will never be able to replicate that night in July on 1999 with the Blair Witch. We’ve seen it all today. What’s the next new thing?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember seeing Blair Witch Project in a theatre when it first came out. Had an awful lot of publicity, and I probably had way too high of expectations for it…so it underwhelmed for the most part…until the ending, which I will remember forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading. I guess you have to imagine being in my shoes when we had zero expectations and actually believed it was real. I’m lucky I wasn’t part of the post hype. I WAS the hype. But, yeah, I agree with you that after all the rabbits were out of the hat, expectations were too high. My dad was bored, haha! Great memory though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the found footage movie genre would be more believable today if the horror was toned down a little and gritty realism was introduced. That’s just my observation though. Instead of focusing on an alien invasion or a haunted house (which works to an extent) perhaps they should be a little more abstract and infuse the footage with a feeling of existential dread. But it’s still hard in this age when you can find out almost everything there is to know about everything using the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You nailed it: Subtlety is what is most effective. Once that monster is revealed, the imagination, anticipation, and fear subside into only the director’s vision. I’m glad you and I agree on this, and you might be much younger. Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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