I remember when everyone was saying that found footage films were a fad and that it would eventually become like nu metal, nearly forgotten in a bygone era. It didn’t help that there were a million Paranormal Activity sequels (and I watched them all!)—and knockoffs. For a minute, it did look like something might give, especially with analog horror taking center stage. However, found footage may have indeed walked a similar path as nu metal, because both never quite died and are now becoming modern fascinations for an entirely new generation of fans.
The 2021 documentary, The Found Footage Phenomenon delved into the furor surrounding the multiple waves of found footage films, beginning with controversial films like Cannibal Holocaust, the box office sensation The Blair Witch Project, and the low-budget breakout hit Paranormal Activity. It got me thinking about the next wave of found footage, particularly the efforts being made worldwide to reinvent the found footage subgenre.
Here we took a look at some of the best examples of how found footage never went away; it just took the general audience a while to find it.
The Blackwell Ghost 6 (2022)
If you haven’t heard of the Blackwell Ghost series of found footage/mockumentary films, dig them up on streaming services because they are among the most underrated in the genre.
Everything about the series begins modestly, with the director-filmmaker Turner Clay starring in his own investigations, adorning a very laid-back personality, often self-deprecating, which lowers viewers’ expectations. He seeks out the paranormal and finds himself in some truly memorable paranormal scenes. Over the course of the series, Clay goes from a newbie paranormal investigator to someone being hunted by a ghost in his own home. It’s bingeable and unforgettable stuff.
The Land of Blue Lakes (2021)
The first-ever Latvian found footage film, 2021’s The Land of Blue Lakes is equally a familiar document of five teenage friends entering the woods to go camping—which is code for drinking and having tons of fun—and a fantastic portrait of the natural landscape hinted in the title.
Much like any slice of horror that takes place in the woods, the group stumbles across odd ritualistic artifacts of an increasingly unsettling manner. No qualms at all about it being inspired by The Blair Witch Project but The Land of Blue Lakes manages to take the "lost in the woods" motif into the modern-day—complete with a renewed lens for honoring historical Latvian lands.
Much like The Land of the Blue Lakes, the upcoming 2022 Indian found footage film Vazhiye takes viewers into the depraved depths of the forest.
Using nature as its alluring yet menacing backdrop, the film focuses on YouTube vloggers seeking the sort of content that’ll be sure to get views. They enter the unknowns of a forest, only to end up in situations that border on deadly and disturbing. The atmosphere generated in the trailers released so far offers a familiar yet palpable sense of dread.
Murder Death Koreatown (2020)
Murder Death Koreatown returns to one of the more unique aspects of found footage: the blurry line between fact and fiction. The film lacks any credited director and utilizes footage of Koreatown in Los Angeles and bends reality to tell its odd tale.
The man behind the camera begins filming an investigation inspired by the murder of a nearby neighbor. The homicide itself is said to be based on real events. The director/filmmaker threads together conspiracies involving local landlords and street performers. His sanity is equal to his armchair investigation which spirals into all sorts of dead ends. It’s found footage with a focus on the “found,” and remains a recent example of the subgenre demonstrating its individuality.
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Not all found footage films need to be insanely dark, as demonstrated by the utterly unique 2021 Japanese zombie film, One Cut of the Dead. The film was a resounding breakout hit and became the buzz of film festivals before it permeated the market (and streaming services) with its metaphysical dark comedy. The film follows a film crew and their actors working on-location filming a zombie movie in one long take only to… end up stumbling into real zombies and a real outbreak.
It’s extremely well-done and demonstrates that found footage doesn’t always have to live purely around the camera.
Host (2020) and Dashcam (2021)
I’m mentioning both films together due to being from the same directorial mastermind, Rob Savage. Both films take found footage and aim to reinvent them alongside modern technology.
In 2020’s Host, the film uses Zoom—complete with the 60-minute time limitation of free Zoom accounts—to narrate a would-be typical night in during lockdown between six friends drinking, making dinner, and gossiping to keep the woes of the pandemic away. When they conjure a demonic presence, things get crazy real quick. It’s cleverly done and extremely timely. I recall watching it during my own lockdown amid the pandemic and being amazed at how quickly they filmed, edited, and fully produced the film for streaming services.
The recently released Dashcam does more of the same—this time using an iPhone—as Annie live streams to her small yet increasing following. Things get weird quickly. Annie ends up on a downward spiral of often loosely politically charged acts that lead to strange encounters with a cult—and the live stream chat comments on the situation, like some 2022 version of Mystery Science Theater 2000. No matter if it lands right for you or not, Savage effectively uses found footage to inspire a reaction from his viewers.