It’s no secret that I am a devotee of the ‘found footage’ and POV subgenre of films. I think it’s fair to even call me a fanboy of sorts. There’s a power to that immediacy, to that manner of storytelling. I have talked about it before and having seen lots and lots and lots of these films my passion for them has yet to dampen.
Yeah, there are some mediocre entries, and some terribly lazy films based on that notion but there are also some very good and powerful ones. I think for me the fun is in finding the ones that are in the rough. Out of sight. Not as easily found. Lately I have been digging into YouTube and have found some gems. There’s something really pure and democratic about found footage and POV films in that anyone with a camera can make them. It’s up to the filmmaker/s to decide how stripped down or how over the top the films are. While some find this style tiresome – and I can see where it can absolutely be tiresome – there is also a freedom for the filmmakers to create as they wish. So much is dependent on the story and how it’s told that you can take something very simple and make it absolutely harrowing.
I happened upon EXHIBIT A recently, a POV film that tells the story of a family in turmoil as seen through the eyes of the daughter. It’s not a horror film, per se, but it’s absolutely chilling and real in a way that many mainstream dramas wish they could be. The use of the camera as a witness to the family, and to the tale as it unfolds makes the viewer feel as if they are a voyeur, able to see the larger picture but unable to change its path.
Another recent re-watch was of the film THE TUNNEL, a POV film following a news crew as they explore a tunnel system where homeless people have disappeared. Here you have the interjection of interviews and news footage (not so dissimilar to the way that POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES works) cut in with the POV footage of the crew as they descend into the tunnel system. This is a horror that is inherently inspired by aspects of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but it creates its own voice and once it’s done they have created their own story of dread and haven’t relied on some of the pitfalls that undo so many other films.
There is power in the unseen, in these films, in the aspect of the campfire tale that they offer. The power of forcing us to use our imaginations to create the horror and to fill in the blanks. Lovecraft was very good at this, giving enough rough detail to aid us in creating the most horrible of things in our minds. You have to give something though. Some sort of something Even if it’s simply the dread of the actor. The beauty of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is that we have such a vibrant view of the witch, of what she is, but it’s mostly from descriptions, from reactions, from evidence, and from her myth itself.
Another thing that really pulls these sorts of films together is when they use the medium they are utilizing. That is to say, when the film reveals something that wasn’t discovered at first. The film LAKE MUNGO does this brilliantly, revealing truths up into the credits, thus changing how we see the film over and over again. The film LEAVING D.C. does a nice job of this also, showing a common man chronicling his move and happening upon something larger. He uses audio and his camera to capture things that he doesn’t experience at first but which reveal themselves as true upon examiniation. This allows the main character to be as vulnerable and in the dark as the audience is and the horror that is revealed becomes a shared link.
These films can be so very powerful but yes, they can be lazy.
You get the running in the dark.
The shaky cam screaming.
The dragging into the darkness as the camera watches.
Young people going places they are not supposed to.
People ignoring the warning signs of danger and bumbling straight into the jaws of terror.
This list can really go on and on but if you have seen one bad found footage or POV film than you can name the clumsy tropes before they even happen. And clumsy is the perfect word for it because the films that ‘get it wrong, are very clearly making a movie for money alone. And hey, do what you gotta do, but that disingenuous nature screams aloud because the filmmakers are simply hitting moment markers and ticking things off of a list. They are making one of these films because they are inexpensive and, for a time, were the flavor of the month.
This sort of filmmaking is what turns a fad into a trend into a nuisance. See: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and any of the movie trends that has taken hold of horror from time to time. Despite this though, there are still great films out there, and waiting to be made in this subgenre. Like anything else the power comes from how the work is made and what the story it is that is being told. Sure, there’s still going to be a lot of awful movies out there but I’ll accept them so long as there are still gems to find.
I suppose my attraction to these stories and films is that they capture what I love so much about scary stories and their telling – how they differ between teller and tale and that will always draw me back to horror. The dark is very deep and very hungry and I cannot wait to hear about the many monsters that live within in.