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.
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.
foundfootage, footage consisting entirely of leftover material from
other GPO films. In Rainbow Dance, for example, simple stencilled images of fish and boats are superimposed on to translucently rendered footage of various seascapes, while a bright red
cut-out of a toy train chugs across an Ordnance Survey map.
A tennis match, performed by the film’s silhouetted dancer,
Rupert Doone– w
ho had recently co-founded London’s Group
Theatre– is discernible amid floating shapes and vivid colour
combinations; on two occasions during this sequence, cuts are
made to a
metropolises of high modernity. These films also tend to be
products of an artisanal rather than a commercial imperative,
frequently incorporating foundfootage, and fragments from
alternative image systems, into their documentary mise en scène.
In many cases, they may even be more familiar to students of
animation, assemblage and collage, photography, or post-war
film modernism, than to students of the documentary.
As figures who can relate to cinema through other arts, the
filmmakers discussed in Regarding the Real convey an ambitious, experimental sense of what the
the hand-held camera or found-footage device, the night
vision function, a zombie-like contagion, and a female monster. The
film has been extremely successful, spawning an American remake
(Quarantine ) and three sequels (REC 2 [ 2009 ], REC 3:
Génesis [ 2012 ], and REC 4: Apocalypse ).
The premise on which REC is based is simple: a
difficult to identify because they are never true, so too is the film, since it is composed of
other films and foundfootage and because its words (interviews, asides,
commentaries – as with Citizen Kane, The Immortal Story, The Lady from
Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons and, interestingly,
Othello) not only are the words of unreliable witnesses but issue from
places well outside the film and its temporality.
The film involves essentially three stories: the story of Elmyr de Hory,
the art forger, about whose life Irving has written a book. (de Hory
is photography itself, and the essentially ambiguous, indeterminate nature of perspective.
In the mid 1950s, Burckhardt collaborated with Cornell,
and together they completed ten short films. By this time,
Cornell was adopting an approach to filmmaking that differed somewhat from his earlier methods. Instead of editing
together foundfootage from old feature films, and adding
tints, musical accompaniment (soundtracks), and trickery (as
in Rose Hobart (1936, 17 min.)), or adopting even more complex compilation-collage techniques (as in the 1940 trilogy
the crackle of damaged film may resemble the
work of the Lumière brothers, but they are bespoke antiques.
Guerín uses the ‘found’ footage to construct a family
portrait reminiscent of Renoir (both father and son), but this only
illustrates the paradox that although the purpose of such movies is to
‘remember’ reality, their structuring as a narrative turns such
memories into fiction. He exaggerates this paradox by treating
Jarman’s own methods of
film-making seem to owe something to these ideas and his first draft of the
Jubilee script has a note on the ‘method of construction’
which reads: ‘the film unites Super 8 foundfootage and fabricated
film so that the documentary and art film are confused[,] art and life
become synonymous’. 27 Yet
in the final film he did
The final two chapters explore the ways in which
twenty-first-century technologies are imaged on screen. Agnieszka
Soltysik Monnet offers insight into the uses of new technologies in the
horror film, focusing on Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s
REC (2007) in order to explore the possibilities of the
hand-held camera in the ‘foundfootage’ film. In
particular, the ‘night vision’ effect counters