5 Ways to Make Found Footage Films Better
Much like with any genre when they find what works they overwork it to death and found footage films are no exception. The explosion of The Blair Witch Project in the 90’s and the success of the Paranormal Activity franchise, found footage films have been the new “it” film for awhile and I have watched my fair share of them. Most of the results being a mixed bag of good, bad and the ugly. This over saturation has left a lot of horror fans in found footage fatigue. But, I believe there is still hope for this sub-genre and here are just a few suggestions on revamping it.
Make likable characters – When was the last time you watched a found footage movie and you came away really enjoying a character(s)? Probably not a lot. Watching more than a few found footage films myself, it feels like almost everyone has the same kind of stereotypical characters. Now, as horror fans we know stereotypes are no stranger to our genre, but found footage seems to take these and in the concept of making them “real” they somehow make them worse. Take either the group of friends combo, the couple on an adventure or the exploration team it all eventually adds up to unforgettable characters or wanting them all dead within the first 15 minutes of the movie. The range of emotions shown by these characters falls into, the super cheeseball excitement of adventure, holy crap something is going down let me start arguments with everyone so I can drop the “F” bomb a pointless amount of times to show my frustration and there is the exhaustion expression while looking blankly into the camera at the end of the movie. I understand that unlike a studio presented horror movie that has better character development, this is suppose to be “real” with real personalities and emotions. But, sadly I have seen better redeemable characters in reality tv than in found footage. So, expand the characters out and give them a little more depth than just the ability to smile, laugh and cry at the camera.
Don’t make it 80% of nothing – How many times have you sat through a found footage film and thought it’s been 45 minutes and nothing is happening! I have seen these characters do chores, have an argument and if you are watching PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 you have lost count on how many times you have watched the pool being vacuumed. Why does found footage have to have this turtle style pace with the last 10-15 minutes ending up like a race to the finish? Just to do a quick comparison, although I didn’t really like the film Exist, which was a found footage film about a group of campers who encounter a Bigfoot. I do appreciate the fact that there wasn’t these long drawn out scenes of basically nothing, instead they gave an opening to introduce the characters and then moved on with the plot and action of the film. Whereas WILLOW CREEK, which was also a found footage film about encountering a Bigfoot, went on with a lot of miscellaneous dialogue and scenes, which culminated with the last few scenes having all the action of the movie. Due to all this miscellaneous non-progressing story lines or scenes I was ready for these characters to die. Found footage viewers shouldn’t have to spend time on a linear storyline to have an unsatisfying pay out at the end.
Broaden your horizons – I think we have run the gamut on found footage subjects, aliens, zombies, Bigfoot, ghosts, possession and random supernatural occurrences. I would like to see found footage take a turn with something more creative than just the standard fare. Much like how THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN started out as a documentary about a woman who her family believed to be the stages of Alzheimer’s, but the film progressed into something much different. Afflicted had a similar approach, where you believed you were being lead down one path, but it took you in a completely different direction. Found footage can do the twists and turns of a great horror flick and I would love to see more of them do that.
Turn off the Night Vision – I understand there is no good way to film night scenes when you are being chased by Bigfoot other than using night vision to show the action. But, how about limiting the amount of usage of it especially when you are really not showing anything other people looking like raccoons. I’m not blasting all use of night vision, [REC] did a great job of using it, but their use of it added to the story rather than just fill the story. It doesn’t have to be completely eliminated from a film, but not everything in a horror movie has to be visual. Perfectly placed audio suspense can do more for a film then watching everyone glowing green.
Give me a reason – I know this statement is being a bit nit picky, but I believe in the fantasy of watching a horror movie so when the opening credits state “based on a true story” I don’t believe it really is, but I like to believe in the fact that it could be true, it gets me in the mind set to be involved in the film. Now, some found footage do put in a blurb stating either the people are missing or they found this footage in some random place, but for the most part it is an opening scene of the characters either in a car driving, packing bags or someone doing an interview on someone. I know it’s a bit weird to say that, but when I watch a horror movie I want to take in all the fantasy of it. Just starting off the film with characters and no semi-backstory or a small narration of the path ahead for the characters I’m left with filling in the blanks myself. I realize that to some people this is really a non-issue, but I want to have some mythology as to what I am seeing.
Let me know some of your reasons to make found footage films better on Twitter @horrorevilqueen