Has any horror subgenre fallen in and out of favor as many times as found footage? For the same reasons that it resonates with independent filmmakers, it often falls flat with moviegoers.
Produced with lower budgets on a shorter timelines, the odds of ending up with a quality horror film are slim. But studios and filmmakers in the late 2000s to early ’10s didn’t let that stop them from jumping on the bandwagon and trying their hand at found footage. I decided to sift through the chaos and pick out the eight best found footage horror movies I could find.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
While it may seem painfully obvious, no found footage horror list would be truly complete without The Blair Witch Project. The film follows three student filmmakers through the Black Hills as they shoot a documentary on local legend, the Blair Witch.
The subgenre has come a long way since 1999, but The Blair Witch Project remains the standard by which all other found footage films are measured. In addition to being credited with popularizing the subgenre, the film has remained one of the most successful independent films of all time, grossing nearly $250 million on a $60,000 budget. Compiled from over twenty hours of raw footage, the film’s surprisingly realistic feel and terrifying final sequences are a testament to the improvisational acting chops of the three lead actors.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been eight years since the wide release of Paranormal Activity. The extremely low-budget found footage film has since spawned four direct sequels and a spin-off, thanks in no small part to its status as the most profitable film ever made.
The premise couldn’t be simpler, as a young couple experiencing a haunting attempts to catch the entity on camera. While the follow-up films have a lot of fun with unique camera setups and expanding the canon, there’s a certain simplicity to the first entry that makes it a truly effective experience. The film’s director, Oren Peli, has also gone on to produce a number of fantastic horror films including the Insidious series, The Lords of Salem, and The Bay.
While America was busy obsessing over Paranormal Activity, Spain had its hands full with the phenomenal found footage zombie film, [Rec]. The story of a reporter trapped in a quarantined apartment building during a viral outbreak lends itself wonderfully to the found footage subgenre and often feels like a video game as the uninfected fight their way through the building. The use of night vision in the film’s final act remains a stunning visual sequence ten years later.
Its success led to three sequels and the English language remake Quarantine. As with most direct remakes of foreign films however, the original far surpasses its American clone.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
While I have always been a fan of exorcism films, the subgenre often struggles to present a fresh take on the ritual. The Last Exorcism expertly merges exorcisms and found footage with a fantastic twist.
The film follows Reverend Cotton Marcus who, disillusioned with the church, decides to document the exorcism of a farmer’s daughter in order to expose the process as fraud. With a truly original story and a standout performance by Ashely Bell, The Last Exorcism has secured its place as both a remarkable exorcism film and found footage film.
V/H/S holds the distinction of being the only anthology on our list. The film’s five shorts and frame narrative are led by some of the genre’s freshest voices including Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) and Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers).
While its first followup, V/H/S/2, had a few fantastic segments, V/H/S definitely presents the strongest stories of the series with standout segments “Tape56”, “Second Honeymoon”, and “10/31/98”. Though quickly forgotten, David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” segment was even adapted into the feature length film SiREN four years later.
The Bay (2012)
Equal parts eco-documentary and horror film, The Bay is unique in that the horror it presents is rooted in reality. Directed by accomplished filmmaker Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man), The Bay tells the story of a deadly plague unleashed on a seaside town that turns humans into hosts for a mutant parasite.
Rather than filmed by a single camera or crew, the film presents itself as a compilation of footage taken from various sources covering the outbreak. Produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), The Bay does an excellent job balancing believable news clips with gruesome moments and scares.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Perhaps the least known film on our list, The Taking of Deborah Logan deserves to be in your collection. Taking the familiar “documentary crew” angle, the film follows an elderly woman who’s Alzheimer’s disease turns out to be something slightly more supernatural and much more sinister.
Soap opera actress Jill Larson gives an absolutely commanding performance as the possessed Deborah and the eeriness of her portrayal will definitely stick with you long after the movie ends. The directorial debut of Adam Robitel, The Taking of Deborah Logan is so effective that it helped to earn Robitel the director’s seat for the upcoming entry into the Insidious franchise, The Last Key.
The Visit (2015)
Although released to mixed reviews, The Visit has been heralded by many fans as M. Night Shyamalan’s proper return to horror. It even led to Shyamalan being nominated for “The Razzie Redeemer Award,” though it ended up going to Sylvester Stallone for Creed. While there’s no question that it’s the lightest movie on our list, the film’s campy tone and sense of humor play perfectly against its darker moments, making for an extremely enjoyable watch.
In the film, two teenage siblings are sent off to spend a week with the grandparents they’ve never met. Alone with the elderly couple, the kids document the entire trip as things quickly begin to spiral out of control around them.
Which of these do you think is the best found footage horror movie? Vote below, and if we missed your favorite, let us know in the comments!