The Inherent Problem With Found Footage Movies

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Is the era of shaky cameras, weirdly-framed close ups, and Real World-style chats with the screen really finally coming to an end? Or are found footage movies here to stay? Either way, the genre has a problem.


In response to the question raised in this movie review, of whether the latest V/H/S movie was finally the one to pound the nail into the found footage coffin, a discussion began about the built-in problem with these movies: Just who was making these movies anyway? And how far did a movie need to go to explain away that problem?


That really is the problem with PA (and most found footage) these days. Who found the footage and is currently editing it back together? In PA1 I could at least buy we were watching the tapes from a police investigation. But something like this or the Last Exorcism?

And in the case of something like Cloverfield, why should I buy into the reality of this found footage when it's existence would surely be a thing that would've made national (if not world) news.

That's where "modern" found footage falls flat. You can't suspend reality to the point that you believe this could have happened, so're watching/evaluating a movie and thus apply the tropes of the genre.


That's what made Blair Witch so great was the entire build around the found footage. The fake documentary, the fake website, basically the entirely created "legend." Half of the Blair Witch movie was literally everything that came out about it before the movie.


I think when it's pulled off it can be effective, but it's rare. The only case I can think of, actually, where I felt like it made sense and I never was bothered by the footage (or the idea that someone would take time to edit something together) was Chronicle. That footage actually added something to the story for me. Usually it's more marginally-inoffensive like Cloverfield's seekret! guvment classified video! which doesn't overcome the "why is he still filming" question.

Commenter storymark however, pointed out that, even with the problem of suspending the audience's disbelief, there was one little reason the genre would keep right on going:

I wouldn't hold my breath. They're super-cheap to make. All they need to do is a little business to turn a profit, making it a very appealing business model. There are something like 14 found footage horror flicks coming out in the next year.

Finally, from commenter damanoid comes this suggestion of at least one potential found footage movie that addresses that particular meta-problem head on:

This raises an excellent question! If all these movies are found footage... who's finding all the footage? Maybe it's just one guy! If there is footage, he will find it... by leaving a trail of corpses! They call him the Finder Man, or Mister Footage. He's a well-known urban legend! Whatever you do, don't lose your footage, or Mister Footage will find it. Then he'll bring it back to you... with death! They say he carries a Super 8 projector all studded with rusty blades. A group of amateur filmmakers once tried to document the phenomenon of Mister Footage. This is their story...


Are you a found footage fan or is the genre dead for you? Tell us about it in the comments, along with examples of which found footage movies did and didn't work for you and why.


The secret ingredient is phone

To me the biggest problem I have with found footage movies is the conceit that I'm supposed to give a shit about these characters who are such big assholes that they refuse to stop filming no matter what.

That said, Europa Report is technically a found footage film done up like its supposed to be a Discovery Channel special, using "government released tapes and interviews", and I think it works well, the cameras all had a reason for being there and there was a legitimate reason that "someone" edited the footage together in that manner.