Found footage horror movie As Above, So Below follows a team of urban explorers into the catacombs beneath Paris, home to “200 miles of tunnels right underneath our feet!” as announced in the trailer by Perdita Weeks, who plays urban archeology student Scarlett Marlowe. “Holding the remains of six million corpses,” replies fellow explorer George, played by Ben Feldman. You can imagine what happens next: images of walls built from skulls, enveloping darkness, nightmarish visions of each character’s past, and what looks like the Grim Reaper’s hood, all viewed from the perspective of a GoPro.
“Tell me we just didn’t go in a circle,” says Weeks’s Marlowe in the red band trailer. (Of course they did.)
Sadly, for every truly memorable found-footage horror movie, there are eleven derivatives. Here are our picks for the eleven best found-footage flicks, from The Blair Witch Project, which put the genre on the map in 1999, to ones released just this summer. More than a few are available on-demand, as well. And remember to keep your cameras recording.
The latest downmarket provocation from poke-a-stick-in-your-eye auteur Bobcat Goldthwait may be the unlikeliest, a found-footage horror cheapie that turns out to be its creator’s warmest, most satisfying work. (At least since his peak stand-up days; young Goldthwait’s comedy was uncommonly sharp and insightful.) — Alan Scherstuhl in his 2014 review of Willow Creek.
Most horror films are spectacles of excess, based on special effects and gross-out gore. An anachronistic few subscribe to the countertradition of psychological suggestion, identified with the cycle of literate low-budget thrillers produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s. The Blair Witch Project has been strenuously promoted over cyberspace and cable but this clever, creepy indie is a throwback — inexpensively produced and suffused with the subtle Lewtonian atmospherics of B movies like Return of the Cat People or I Walked With a Zombie. — J. Hoberman, in his 1999 Blair Witch Project review.
“I don’t understand why this is happening,” whimpers an awestruck participant in the Cloverfield calamity. Quaking amidst the rubble of shattered condos, stumbling over piles of decimated retail, choking on burnt flesh and smoldering plastic, witness to the collapse of proud Manhattan real estate in the wake of implacable, inexplicable fury, she really ought to have said, “I don’t understand why this is happening again.” — Nathan Lee in his 2008 Cloverfield review.
Over the course of a single night, a virus spreads through an apartment building in Barcelona and turns its residents into violent, bloodthirsty creatures. Directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, the shaky-cam-style film follows a television crew who ended up in the building while recording an episode of a reality TV show about people who work nights — this time they were shadowing EMT’s called to the residential building to help a woman who had been infected by the mysterious virus.
This is the 2008 U.S. remake of REC and is directed by John Erick Dowdle. It again shows us the footage from a two-person TV crew who tag along with firefighters in an apartment building. Quarantine, unlike REC, gives a more scientific explanation for the mysterious virus, though. (Less Satan, more contagions.)
With a small, well-chosen cast, sly script, and slippery, ambivalent characters, The Last Exorcism gives a welcome titty-twist to the demonic-possession movie revival. A fourth-generation minister, Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), of Baton Rouge’s Church of St. Mark was groomed for the pulpit. Onetime child preacher Cotton has grown out of the trembling faith of his forebears, though not the job security of preaching it. Nowadays, he can make an ironic aside from his cruise-control sermons without missing an “Amen.” As his passionate faith wanes, his showmanship gains: He integrates card tricks into his preaching, like a birthday party magician. But once he’s shaken the parishioners’ hands, he washes off the Blood of Christ and returns to a well-adjusted family, clean suburb, and secular concerns. — Nick Pinkerton in his 2010 review of The Last Exorcism.
Alleged to be compiled of found college-project footage from a group of missing students, Trollhunter begins as an investigative report by aspiring Norwegian Michael Moores, trailing RV-driving loner Hans (Otto Jespersen). Suspected of bear poaching, Hans is revealed instead to be the field agent in a government conspiracy to cover up the existence of very real, very large trolls. — Nick Pinkerton in his 2011 Trollhunter review.
In the faux-found-footage horror anthology V/H/S (containing material directed by Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Ti West, and others), a crew of droogs given to videotaping its acts of vandalism is hired to break into a house and steal a VHS tape. Once inside, they find a corpse blanked out in front of a TV and a stash of unmarked analog bricks; the movie essentially consists of the handful of vids that can be popped into the VCR before the framing device falls into itself. — Karina Longworth in her 2012 review of V/H/S.
Credit this spirited, uncommonly effective found-footage thriller for breaking the templates promised by its genre and title. Director Matty Beckerman forgoes the usual 90 minutes of portents and shadows, instead revealing the beasties about a half-hour in, and doesn’t even bother with the yanked-from-bed-by-flying-saucers routine, perhaps because we’re not yet so far gone as a culture that audiences would believe sleepwalkers documenting their adventures via video camera. — Alan Scherstuhl in his 2014 Alien Abduction review.
Paranormal Activity 3 backtracks to 1988 to reveal (sort of) how the hauntings that plague sisters Katie and Kristi began. As youngsters in 1988, the pair (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Ty-ler Brown) endures the attention of an unseen spectral masher along with incessant taping by their mom’s videographer boyfriend (Chris Smith), who’s intent on getting to the bottom of the unexplained thumps, quakes, furniture rearranging, and other manifestations familiar from the first two movies. — Mark Holcomb in his 2011 Paranormal Activity 3 review.
Restaging the 1978 Jonestown massacre for a present-day suspense movie is by most definitions tasteless, although The Sacrament infuses the past with ghoulish immediacy. The film’s shopworn premise — a documentary crew nervously investigates the “Eden Parish” commune — nonetheless crackles to life once these newcomers meet the cult’s enigmatic leader, “Father” (Gene Jones). — Rob Staeger in this 2014 review of The Sacrament.
More:Film and TV