When I say flop, I don't mean critical or commercial, I mean the whole film is just a flop.
Last night I watched a #foundfootage #horror that had been shelved for quite some time. This film in question was Oren Peli’s Area 51. Just the idea of a found footage film set in Area 51, involving aliens and government conspiracy, got me pumped, and the fact it’s directed by Oren Peli who helmed the early #ParanormalActivity films was also another key factor into checking it out.
I finally get round to watching it and realise it was the biggest waste of time and such a disappointment considering its potential to be creepy and well made. It’s utter garbage and will feature in this article looking at some of the worst found-footage horror movies ever. This sub-genre of horror is a rocky one, with a handful of great films here and there from The Den, The Taking of Deborah Logan to Grave Encounters, and then a whole heap of bad ones that tarnish this genre.
There are documentary-type horrors such as The Tunnel that have similar elements to solely found-footage, though these docu-horrors are more realistic and feature a news-heavy/documentary tale to drive the story, a la The Conspiracy. Some of these films make great use of the first-person perspective, making you feel like the person behind the camera, throwing you into the action as the camera shots become more frantic and tighter.
Then there are those films that trash the unique perspective, tossing you into a whirlpool of footage that is so incomprehensible and poorly edited the scares and atmosphere become non-existent. Horror is so subjective, one thing can scare somebody to death but that same thing may not even cause a person to flutter, case in point the Paranormal Activity films, a series which has divided viewers. I hope to save your precious time with this list, because the 9 films here truly are the flops of the genre.
9. Blair Witch (2016)
Whilst it’s not the worst of the found-footage genre, this totally unnecessary reboot of the original 1999 crapfest finds another set of dull teens enter the haunted forest in which the legend of The Blair Witch supposedly reigns over in order to find the original group that went missing and of course they’re all filming every second. The performances are incredibly dull, bar Callie Hernandez who is at least trying to look scared. The scares are recycled, from tree branches snapping, bass booms, exaggerated noises and shadows in the background, there is nothing original about this film. The only other positive aside from one actress is that you get a split second glimpse of some ghastly creature towards the end, compared to the original where you see nothing. Rating: 3.5/10
8. The Banshee Chapter
This one is a real shame because The Banshee Chapter gets off to solid beginnings. The documentary-style adds realism to protagonist Anne Roland’s investigation, as she tries to find clues about her friend’s disappearance. Katia Winter’s performance as Anne is a great one, very natural and strong-willed to fit her character. You do eventually see glimpses of the unknown entity during the finale but like most found-footage films, the camera shies away at every opportunity it gets, and The Banshee Chapter does this relentlessly. We are treated to some truly terrible camerawork in which characters run frantically whilst screaming in poorly lit locations. After the thirty minute mark the film descends into a sluggish bore, as Anne’s investigation takes her to people’s houses and barren locations, where loud noises and so-called sightings occur. The horror elements fall flat once the atmosphere drains out about midway, this film could’ve been something scary but fails to thrill, intrigue or scare. Rating: 3.5/10
7. Devil's Due
Devil’s Due is basically Rosemary’s Baby but in found-footage style, without the wit, originality or menace. The film gets off to an alright start, establishing Samantha and Zach McCall’s relationship, as they are ensnared by a cult whilst on their honeymoon, and then wake up with no memory of the events. it’s when they get back home weird events occur, as Samantha gains powers and her body and mind change.
Basically things get pretty ridiculous when telekinesis gets involved, and cliches pile in, like weird people staying at our protagonists. Cults appear when convenient, and it’s shown that this is just another couple in a chain of many that this cult target. Zach Gilford lacks charisma or energy, though Allison Miller displays a bit more dramatic chops and charisma. A few neat shots, like her baby bump enlarging to mammoth size, and there’s a messed up moment involving knives and pregnant stomachs, but all in all this film isn’t scary. It only elicits a few unnerving scenes, and fails to intrigue after its solid opening. Rating: 3.5/10
6. Project Almanac
Produced by #MichaelBay but lacking the energy, noise and chaos usually seen in his films, something this film could’ve benefited from, Project Almanac admirably takes the found-footage in a refreshing direction into #scifi and time travel, but forgets to bring along interesting characters and thrilling moments. The special effects are quite neat and the footage never gets too shaky to the point of queasiness but the characters are really bland, it’s character writing 101. One nerdy guy dreams of going to the best college, another has lost his Dad, and there’s a predictable crush narrative in thrown in for good measure. The time travel scenes aren’t particularly inventive nor do they go anywhere exciting, it’s just a lot of jumping back and forth to change past events, and watching characters get erased from timelines, it’s almost as convoluted as #TerminatorGenisys, but without the fun and explosive action from Genisys. Rating: 3/10
5. As Above, So Below
Great setting, wicked concept, dull and generic execution. Set in the eerie, never-ending catacombs under Paris, a team of explorers have to face their past regrets or die at the hands of a devilish force. Visions and strange images are the sole bright spots in this otherwise tiresome horror flick where scares are little and the ones that do pop up lack punch. The performances are alright, particularly from an energetic Perdita Weeks.
There are some cool effects, like a guy sat in a burning car who turns to camera and talks despite the burning flames. The real weakness is the shaky cam, coupled with the incredibly dark setting. More lighting, even night-vision or more torches or even flares would’ve made this a little less insufferable. This film should’ve kept its camera steady and been less shy when revealing its imagery and scares, I feel a lot of these modern found footage flicks shake the cam relentlessly to hide the fact that there’s nothing scary to show, and As Above, So Below is one of them. Great title though. Rating: 3/10
4. Europa Report
Here’s a rare one. This found-footage/Documentary style space horror features a well-known cast with the likes of Embeth Davidtz, Michael Nyqvist and Sharlto Copley, as characters who are actually likeable presences, each with a bit of personality and motive. The quality of the footage is terrific as opposed to some of the rough and murkier looking aesthetic in other films in this list.
However, Europa Report is so bland. This film gets way too shouty and it lacks any atmosphere, space travel in this film is devoid of threat and thrills. The problem here is I felt like I was watching behind the scenes for the entire film, this looks like a bunch of actors in a set. Other sci-fi films, found footage or not, I felt like these actors were characters transported to other worlds, whereas here it looks like cosplay in a cheap studio backlot. The search for alien life in this film is one without terror, but at least you get a glimpse of the alien in all of its tacky CGI look. Despite big names, the performances are very melodramatic, over selling the seriousness when I wasn’t buying into it in the first place. Rating: 2/10
3. Grave Encounters 2
Grave Encounters is that rare found-footage film that delivers some heart-stopping scares, features solid camerawork and decent characters, though it struggles to find its feet in the last act. For some reason, someone decided a sequel was a wise idea. It seems the worst of the found-footage films tend to contain nasty and unlikeable characters, and because of their nature, they make the film unbearable, so if every other aspect is bad then the entire film experience is horrible.
Grave Encounters 2 is exactly this. Despite Sean Rogerson returning with a solid performance as the lobotomised Lance, the rest of the cast are obnoxious in their roles, Richard Harmon is utterly terrible as lead Alex, a mopey, sulky and boring performance. The CGI faces of these demonic spirits are now a joke, and there’s a complete lack of build-up and dread that made its predecessor so frightening and haunting. Rating: 0.5/10
2. Area 51
Wow. Just wow. Area 51 is a totally incomprehensible mess, a found-footage horror that was shelved for years and years, and it should’ve stayed that way. Everything about this film, is shockingly bad, though calling it a film is a step too far. The look and substance of this picture doesn’t substitute a film, it’s more like a conglomeration of multiple home videos, seedy, grainy and murky in quality without an ounce of ingenuity in terms of cinematography, composition or style. These characters aren’t developed, introduced, nor do they even come across as characters, just random and aggressively abhorrent people who happen to be onscreen.
Never before has a film lacked the basic filmmaking aspects. The camerawork looks like someone has hit record, forgotten they’ve done that and just wandered aimlessly, as a lot of the footage is of the ground, ceilings, half of facial profiles or pure darkness, leaving only voices to make up the film. A total lack of build-up to any of the events, Area 51 is awash with events that just happen without warning or a link. I cannot believe this was even made in the first place. Rating: 0/10
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Back in 1999 when found-footage was basically new, I’m sure this film would’ve been quite unsettling, as people believed this was real footage. I watched the Blair Witch as soon as it was available on DVD in the UK, I was quite young still, and only just getting into horror, open to any type.
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most laughably bad yet frustratingly awful so-called horror films. People keep trying to tell me what you don’t see is scary. It’s just not true. The sound design is dull, the forest itself has no atmosphere so you never feel these characters are in any threat. Sure, a few rocks and twigs appear, characters go missing, they can’t explain the phenomena and they panic, but the panic isn't passed onto you as the viewer. The colour palette is ugly, the performances are rubbish and the characters are loud and unlikeable, there's very, very little to like about this film.
The found footage camerawork is messy, I could tell what was going on but it was so fast for no reason on multiple occasions. The ending is probably the worst ever put to screen, as Heather spots her friend standing in a dark corner, she then screams and collapses and the film ends. How can a film that calls itself a horror have nothing remotely scary or even unnerving, and how can people think this ending is great? The hype around this one back in the day was warranted, but the hype and positive reviews were not and still aren’t. Rating: 0.0/10
Are you a fan of the found-footage genre? What are your favourites, and what are the worst you've seen?