This article examines the post-millennial popularity of the found footage movie, in particular its engagement with the representational codes of non-fiction media. Whilst the majority of critical writings on found footage identify the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre as a key visual referent, they too often dwell on the literal re-enactment of the event. This article instead suggests that these films evoke fear by mimicking the aesthetic and formal properties of both mainstream news coverage and amateur recording. As such they create both ontological and epistemological confusion as to the reality of the events depicted. Rather than merely replicating the imagery of terror/ism, these films achieve their terrifying effects by mimicking the audiences media spectatorship of such crisis.
The aim of this article is twofold. On the one hand, it offers a survey of found footage horror since the turn of the millennium that begins with The Blair Witch Project (1999) and ends with Devils Due (2014). It identifies notable thematic strands and common formal characteristics in order to show that there is some sense of coherence in the finished look and feel of the films generally discussed under this rubric. On the other hand, the article seeks to reassess the popular misunderstanding that found footage constitutes a distinctive subgenre by repositioning it as a framing technique with specific narrative and stylistic effects.
Nor simplified her ghost.
(Emily Dickinson, ‘What
Mystery Pervades a Well’)
hit US movie theatres in October 1999 it became an overnight sensation,
creating a media buzz that grew in part because of an extraordinary
marketing campaign. An elaborate website, as well as a faux
influential TheBlairWitchProject in 1999 . This strategy (also known as subjective camera,
amateur camera, found footage, POV and mock documentary) has come to
be widely used, including in Death of a Ghost Hunter (2001),
The Descent (2005), Diary of the Dead ( 2007 ), the
Paranormal Activity series (2007–12),
Cloverfield (2008), The Zombie Diaries
mock-documentary does appear to be becoming an accepted
form within both mainstream cinema and television, most recently achieving
popular exposure through films such as TheBlairWitchProject
(1999). This feature-length horror film has prompted much discussion over
the possibility of mock-documentary becoming merely the latest trend or
style to be adopted by low-budget filmmakers. Such discussions conveniently
or past transgressions that threaten the status quo.
This concept of nature as haunted house (to borrow a phrase from Emily
Dickinson) has persisted in American culture, and Hillard frames the
chapter with an analysis of the 1999 film TheBlairWitchProject , looking specifically at its (anti-)environmental subtexts.
There has been recent ecocritical interest in ‘ecophobia’,
and Hillard argues
critical attention and audiences. Eric Faden
identifies five influential films that paved the way for the documentary boom in the US: Morris’s The Thin Blue Line (US, 1988,
grossed over $1 million in the US), Moore’s Roger and Me (US, 1989,
grossed more than $6 million); basketball story Hoop Dreams (US,
1994, grossed nearly $8 million); low-budget fiction success TheBlairWitchProject (US, 1999, grossed $140 million), and finally,
Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.13
According to Faden, The Thin Blue Line was significant not just
in terms of the stylised reconstructions
which would not have been possible with a fixed camera. TheBlairWitchProject (1999), a low-budget independent horror film, used
hand-held cameras deliberately to create an amateur style to the film, a
novelty which contributed to its box-office success.
Sometimes it is immediately clear what kind of camera is being used
and why, at other times this can only be discovered through visual
analysis supported by additional research into production. It is always
useful to think about the way the footage is being shot and the impact
and effect this has. Does it make us as
themselves prey to monstrous hunters. The first example of this subgenre was Villmark (2003; Dark Woods ), Pål Øie's Norwegian version of TheBlairWitchProject . In Øie's film, two women and two men intend to make a reality TV show set in the Norwegian wilderness, but during filming they find themselves followed by a disturbed killer. In André Øvredal's Trolljegeren (2010; Troll Hunter ), two students and their cameraman set out to make a documentary film about a suspected bear poacher only to discover that he is in fact the only operative of the Troll Security