In the last few years, a new genre of films has begun to emerge: The found footage genre.
Typically used as a subgenre of horror, it began with “The Blair Witch Project” for its unique way of story presentation, offering a tale about a group of people usually encounter something beyond their control and power and decide to film the whole incident so that others would believe them.
This has led to the creation of many well-received films or box-office hits, such as the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, “Cloverfield,” “Apollo 17” and “The Trollhunter.”
This genre gives me mixed reactions. I don’t want to call it a good way to make a film, but there are upsides.
For one, found footage films, more than any other type of movie, offers up a unique perspective of an event, where the camera is playing an active part in the story. This makes the audience feel like they are apart of the action and gives a greater sense of immersion. When the cameraman is running away from a giant troll, only to look back and see it coming at full force, the fact that are apart of this really begins to sink in.
On top of that, the idea that this a story of doomed souls gives the events just the right amount of dread and excitement. You know something bad will happen to all of these characters, but you don’t know when or how they will meet their demise.
Such is the strength of “The Trollhunter” as a group of teenagers hunt down trolls but have no experience doing so, only slowly learning from their mentor. Because they are inexperienced, death lurks around every corner, and their next breath could be their last. They don’t dwell on death though and continue to film in memory of those that they lost, to finish what they started. This makes the characters more than just a body count and makes them relatable characters.
There is a flaw within the system of found footage films. I will admit, outside of “The Trollhunter,” of the films I’ve previously mentioned, I hate them all.
This is not because they are found footage, but within simple problems of storytelling. The characters in films like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield” are so unlikable, so unrelatable and so dickish that there is no reason to care about them when they die. Because most of them are assholes to one another, you almost want to see them die just so that you don’t have to deal with them anymore.
In “Cloverfield,” the characters do nothing but moan, whine and complain about their petty problems, like not getting their girlfriend to come to a party or that they are on the verge of breaking up. Complaining about your problems is not a character trait, it is merely annoying and a weak distraction from the plot.
The first rule about making dramatic actions, like a monster attack, carry some weight and mean something is to make the audience care about it. To make it more than just flashy effects and eye candy. The best way to do this is to put your cast of characters in the middle of the action and make the audience care about their struggle.
If the audience does not connect with the characters or does not care about them, then any action scenes will mean nothing. You could have the monster rip the head off the Statue Of Liberty, but if the main character is an idiot who can’t see the obvious then that action will fail to impress.
I feel this is the biggest problem with most found footage films. Their inability to create characters who we want to see survive. Not just serve as another body or gross death, but as our guide through this haunting tale. Most of these films do not seem to understand that, which is why I hate them.
However, there is plenty of potential in the found footage genre. In 2012, “Chronicle” told a slightly found footage story about a group of teens who happened across a meteorite that gave them telekinetic abilities. The rest of the film is about how each of them uses their powers and how one, thanks to a terrible upbringing, intends to use is powers for his own selfish needs. This is heightened by the teens slowly learning about their powers and the magnificent flying sequences as the camera flies through the clouds. This is one of the few sequences in cinema that made me feel like I was flying, like someone strapped a Go-Pro to Superman.
With a combination of visual effects that made you feel apart of this world and characters who face struggles that could happen to anyone, “Chronicle” became one of my favorite films of that year. Not only that, but it gave me hope that the found footage genre had potential to become something incredible and unique to cinema.