Found-footage films and where to find them on internet TV in SA
The found footage film genre chest-burst into existence with the release of deep forest horror mystery thriller The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Using handheld cameras to create a sense of reality, spontaneity and “document” an actual happening, the film’s viral marketing strategy leveraged its “true story” to generate curiosity and extra publicity.
Ridiculed by some and revered by others, The Blair Witch Project’s infamy birthed the tension-soaked any-budget genre known as found footage, now synonymous with box office phenomenon Paranormal Activity. It’s easy to justify any type of recording as the “found footage”, making these films hinge primarily on audacity, concept and style. Here are five found footage inspired films now streaming.
Wesens is probably South Africa’s first found-footage feature film. On a dusty Karoo farm in 1967, a group of government investigators arrive to examine a crash site and object believed to be of Russian origin.
This stylish found-footage sci-fi mystery thriller surfaces after the closure of an estate, showing the team’s arrival, preliminary findings and unexpected discoveries. Shot on 16mm and Super 8 cameras, Wesens cleverly immerses viewers in an alienating time with a unique frame size and curious social and historical context. Extended shots and corded microphones used to record scientific data and findings give it a grounded matter-of-fact tone.
Maintaining its authentic feel through on-location shooting, accurate wardrobe, retro technology, artefacts from the age and sparse dialogue, the film gives us a sense of being there. Filmed at arm’s length, Pietie Beyers, Morne Visser and Albert Maritz contribute realistic depictions of their characters while the edit maintains the spontaneity of found footage. Wesens uses the power of imagination, slowly building suspense as new information about the mysterious unidentified object comes to light.
As Above, So Below (Netflix)
As Above, So Below takes place in one of the creepiest places across history, the Catacombs of Paris. Established to alleviate the city’s overflowing cemeteries, the catacombs house the remains of some six million people. Lined with skulls and bones, extending south from Barrière d’Enfer, meaning the Gate of Hell, it’s a popular tourist attraction for those souls who dare.
Documenting a treasure hunt to recover the legendary Philosopher’s Stone and conclude her father’s life’s work, Scarlett Marlowe leads a ragtag team into the darkest reaches of the catacombs. As Above, So Below moves from dead eerie to claustrophobic as their unofficial expedition takes them into the depths of Hell. Reminiscent of The Descent, the found footage horror thriller captures the breathless, torch-lit and dangerous journey into the unknown.
Quarantine’s John Erick Dowdle directs, with a good understanding of found-footage horror – he leverages a relatively unknown cast as the fear factor, ancient puzzles and tension of their doomed exploration escalates.
One of the most star-studded found-footage films has got to be sci-fi mystery thriller Europa Report. Starring South Africa’s very own Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist and Embeth Davidtz, its claustrophobic deep space mission is geared for high drama. While Copley’s best known for District 9, he overpowers his wink-wink charm for something much more contemplative. While on a privately funded space mission to search for signs of life on one of Jupiter’s moons, the crew are confronted by difficult decisions in relaying their life-altering data back to Earth.
Filled with scientific detail to add accuracy and authenticity, Europa Report goes to great lengths to actualise its found footage. Using what we know of Europa, it’s like NASA decided to turn their research into a do-or-die film. Offering a realistic and gritty depiction of a troubled space mission, the beautiful visuals are complemented by smart and taut ethical drama.
The Ritual (Netflix)
The Hangover centred on a band of merry men who wake up to discover their bachelor boy missing after a wild night in Las Vegas. The Ritual recalls this college dynamic but gives it a fresh spin in the forests of Northern Sweden, adding Blair Witch Project woodland creepiness and sending the wolf pack on a trip to commemorate a fallen friend.
Imbued with the spirit of misadventure comedy replete with snide remarks, coarse language and camaraderie, a “shortcut” through the woods turns into a nightmare. The Ritual is a found-footage-style mystery horror thriller with a budget, V/H/S director David Bruckner and a few recognisable faces. Rafe Spall has been around the Hollywood block as a character actor and you’ll recognise Robert James-Collier from Downton Abbey.
Limiting the frenetic handheld movements means that the camera isn’t a character for a change, and so the focus shifts to traditional storytelling as surreal flashbacks haunt and an evil presence stalks the group who start to wish they’d gone to Vegas.
Mark Duplass is well-respected as an indie filmmaker and actor who broke onto the scene with the indie comedy The Puffy Chair. One of his breakthrough performances was as Josef in Creep, a terminally ill man who hires a videographer for a day to record a day-in-the-life for his unborn son. As the day progresses, Josef’s strange behaviour leads his cameraman, baited by a hefty salary for a day’s work, to question Josef’s actual motives.
His socially awkward and inappropriate conversations start to become downright manipulative and sinister. We venture forth from an eerie remote mountainside town as a young video guy becomes a chew toy to a man who starts to make Norman Bates seem normal.
As far as found-footage horror thrillers go, this entertaining two-hander is one of the better ones, doing wonders on a shoestring budget. Duplass has a likeable energy, which is counterbalanced by a disturbing slow creep as an eclipse reveals an eccentric to be a lunatic. Originally envisaged as a mostly improvised black comedy, Creep was re-engineered to become a psychological horror thriller.