MAY 20 ― How can you call yourself a horror fan if you’re not also into found footage flicks, right? Even though it’s obviously not the first found footage horror flick, The Blair Witch Project clearly opened the floodgates (thanks to its incredible box-office success), inspiring anyone with a crummy handycam to just go out there and make their own found footage movie.
It’s 2017 now, 18 years after The Blair Witch Project and still there’s no sign that the genre is slowing down or dying a quiet death, even if the genre’s second big sensation, the Paranormal Activity franchise, has more or less died a quiet death with its reportedly last installment The Ghost Dimension.
To be honest, there’s a thrill, a bit like hearing a raw punk rock record or witnessing a charmingly shambolic punk gig, in rummaging through the stacks of found footage flicks that keeps on being churned out every year by horror fans and producers who dream of making the next Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Grave Encounters or whatever franchise of your choice may be.
It’s the thrill of discovering what people can do with limited resources. Some do it because it’s an artistic choice while some do it because of budgetary constraints.
Either way, once you choose to work within the format, you really do have to follow certain rules in order to maintain the illusion that what is being seen is really a piece of found footage. Break that illusion and the whole thing just collapses on itself and you’re taken out of the film completely.
So in the pursuit of that thrill, I’ve ploughed through quite a few new found footage films already this year, and let’s see how two of them fare, shall we?
Hell House LLC
The undoubted superstar is this surprisingly engaging, fun and scary debut from writer-director Stephen Cognetti. It stars a bunch of nobodies and is clearly made with a very low budget yet with a lot of love; it has a premise that’s been explored before in The Houses October Built (which is, of course, a found footage flick as well) and would be indistinguishable from a lot of other found footage films if looked at from the eyes of a non-fan of the genre.
But if you’re a seasoned fan, you’ll notice the little ways that Cognetti has injected some fresh ideas into a well-worn genre.
For starters, the film poses as a TV documentary about the mysterious deaths of 15 tour-goers and staff of a Halloween haunted house tour (which was officially attributed to some sort of technical malfunction), and it sticks to the format really well, juggling footage of interviews with people connected to the case, experts and even investigators with the video diary of the crew operating the haunted house, which makes it look and feel like a really good investigative documentary.
All the questions you’d usually ask when watching a found footage film, like why are they still filming, or who’s filming this particular shot, or why didn’t they just rewind the tape or memory card to just watch the footage, were all more or less answered in very believable and logical ways, so the illusion here is pretty real, with the one glaring exception of the ending.
Still, that doesn’t take away the fact that Cognetti has crafted a really neat little horror film, with plenty of well-earned scares and suspense, and even a few surprises along the way.
Capture Kill Release
If Hell House LLC plays like a TV documentary, then this quite clever little variation of the format takes the form of a homemade video diary by what at first looks like your typical young American couple.
It starts with footage of a girl called Jennifer excitedly testing out her new video camera, filming everything that she and her boyfriend Farhang do before the film slowly teases in the fact that Jennifer is also excitedly planning to kill someone and wants to video the whole process as well.
What plays out afterwards is genuinely disturbing, as we become unwilling witnesses to the two of them discussing mundane yet very important things like how to choose a victim, how to dispose of the body afterwards and things like that.
Even more disturbing is how the film forces us to witness the power play that goes on in the relationship, which I personally think is even more uncomfortable to watch than the copious scenes of very realistic dismemberment and bloodletting that punctuate the film once the mayhem begins.
In short, it really feels like you’re watching the video diary of, if not a serial killer then at least someone who’s really psychotic deep down, but who’s clever enough to hide it very well with manipulative actions that make him or her look no different from all the normal people out there.
It’s more mentally uncomfortable rather scary but it’s precisely this that makes this humble little shocker quite the memorable experience that it is.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.