Found Footage Horror
by Kristin Battestella
Addicts, you make the call! Despite some fine performances, period or unusual settings, and interesting storytelling, I am split on these found footage styled scares thanks to that very discovered, undocumentary design that unites them – or fills them with plot holes.
Apollo 18 – The website lunartruth.com is presented as the source for this 2011 footage recovery, and the faded lines, pops, and mixes of color or black and white seventies home movies design do nicely along with of the time gear and delightful early space program equipment. The cramped shuttle filming is a little too herky jerky and spastic camera flashes will be difficult for some, but opening interviews with the departing astronauts establish the mood, personalities, and secret situation quickly – perhaps too quickly. Sudden goodbyes, landing on the moon, and already being there for almost a week happen in the first ten minutes before some uneven, extremely slow moments with nothing happening and only the closed captioning to indicate the too soft “What was that?” eerie sounds. There’s no sense of awe, scope, or time to appreciate the possibility of this actually happening because the found footage must remain with onboard cameras and can’t allow for any clarifying movement or outside visuals. The choppy, innate presentation disrupts the intriguing conspiracy aspects – Radio Houston hasn’t exactly been honest but talk of the Department of Defense material is conveniently cut off by gaps in the video. Despite the PG-13 rating, there are some invasive bodily gruesomes and creepy contamination fears, but the chattering rock aliens may actually be unnecessary. With no scoring, the tiniest of spaces, lack of oxygen, desperate reliance on damaged equipment, and only three stranded people in foreign isolation, this should be scarier than it is. The bloody evidence of a Soviet lunar landing gone awry would have been the much more interesting antagonist. Paranoia builds nicely thanks to unexplained injuries, missing objects, and others listening in on the lunar frequencies, but need to know excuses, stupidity, and nonsensical turns can’t disguise the cheating found footage plot holes. The deadly hysteria and upsetting outcome would have been far more dramatic had the audience been able to just clearly see it happen. Whether this footage is being transmitted back to earth or later magically retrieved is never explained, but the end credits roll to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are. Say what?
As Above So Below – The disorienting, chaotic start to this 2014 found footage tale compromises the danger of all its tunnels, statues, catacombs, and artifacts because we can’t see much less appreciate them thanks to the sideways camera or off and on flashlights. Young and reckless Perdita Weeks (Lost in Austen) rattles off her credentials and always assures the documentary is paramount while risking harm to others. She heeds no warnings, argues with the more experienced, and audaciously accuses others while she destroys priceless discoveries for her own transformative gain. Instead of Dante food for thought, the wrongfully determined, spelunking hipster plot comes off ala National Treasure – complete with a first clue action start, a break in to inspect the back of a marker, begrudging allies who only want gold, going underground via a tomb, and following historical riddles through one hidden chamber after another. Our cameraman is also a wise cracking, injury prone, token black guy whom we hardly see. His future bodes so well! And hey, there’s no cell phone service underground, obviously. Parisians inexplicably speaking English instead French, obligatory claustrophobia, Indiana Jones rats and knights, and random cult worshipers add to the borrowed contrivances, and it’s tough to make the cliches and busy footage both work due to the increasing demands on our suspension of disbelief. The finest parts here are when the camera remains still with one person in panic. Creepy old phones and broken pianos below add to the dread and maze like inability to escape, creating enough forlorn without the gimmicks. Real cave interiors add to the Egyptian booby traps, however the jump scares, supernatural hell horrors, and a much too much rushed finale abandon the established rules. Was all the metaphysical worth it? Are we supposed to be glad that one got the rectification she desired at the expense of others? This is entertaining for viewers who fall for the frights in the Halloween fun house, but despite attempts at literary and historical allusions, longtime horror audiences and wise cinema fans will see everything coming.
The Last Exorcism – This 2010 ‘discovered’ religious documentary is awkward and pretentious to start with contradictory interviews and a quack minister as its subject. Do we scoff or go with the unscrupulous trick crucifix? Perhaps the lip service narrations provide the desired fakery tone, but there’s no need to overtake the Louisiana visuals and local interviewees’ superstitious state of mind. Patronizing and preachy telling instead of showing may put off viewers, but the talk of demons, Lucifer, and exorcist history add a much needed edge. Bizarre humor and resentment of the camera add dimension as well – hidden filming or distant silent observation build secrecy as blame, suggested mistreatments, and apparent abuses mount. Do the investigation methods of this hack minister encourage superstition where medicine is needed? Is this crappy dog and pony show giving believers what they want helpful or risking a young girl’s life? Medical consequences, spooky circumstances, disturbing familial twists, and freaky camera witnessing escalate the possessed or crazy debate, but hysterical, herky-jerky visuals and swerving camera action are distractingly obvious, taking away from the well done demonic ambiguity because the viewer is overly aware of the confusing, frenetic film making. One too many twists, red herrings, and foreshadowing that gives everything away happen too many times in this frustrating 90 minutes, and like all people who don’t realize they are in a horror movie, no one ever simply leaves or goes for help. Ironically, I’m not sure this is really a horror movie but rather a backwater thriller with tacked on supernatural elements, and I don’t care to see The Last Exorcism Part 2 either.
The Quiet Ones – This 2014 nuHammer mix of science and supernatural has a great atmosphere to start. The isolated British setting, 1974 style, and on form, age appropriate cast lend a serious, mature tone. Cool, old time equipment and clunky cameras add to the grainy film feelings and harken toward a classic Hammer design. Where is the line between evil and mental illness? Do you seek a doctor or a priest for your affliction? These questions and a touch of kinky suggestion are smartly played instead of going for today’s depraved sensationalism. The PG-13 rating wasn’t as bad as I feared, but wise horror viewers can tell the editing is designed to toe the ratings line with near bathtub nudity, scandalous bedrooms, and only a few blood and gory scenes. Mixing the traditional shooting with found footage style designs also seems amiss – calling attention to this gimmicky effect is too on the nose, and the shaky dropping the camera moments feel more funny and annoying than scary startling. We’ve seen better crazed or disturbia elsewhere, so the debate on torturing a young patient in an experiment on possession or illness feels weak amid the series of loosely held together Ghost Hunters bumps and metaphysical double talk. The parapsychology possibilities and unfulfilled back-story on mental repression, evil channeling, and occult history won’t be enough for horror audiences expecting more scares, and the final half hour unravels into a mess of this twist, that twist, a ye olde library research montage, and another twisty twist. This is watchable for younger audiences today, but there is definitely a lingering, unfinished, or too many hands in the pot behind the scenes feeling overshadowing the potential here. I kind of feel like I’ve only seen half the movie and wonder where the rest of the footage is!