One movie genre that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon is the "found footage" films. For those unfamiliar with the term, these are films that are made in a way to have the audience believe they are watching a string of home videos or an amateur documentary, in truth a subgenre of horror and/or science-fiction flicks. The latest one of these found footage films is Project Almanac, set to hit theaters on January 30:
This one looks like it’s going to be on a pretty big scale, using big-budget effects for what are typically smaller, more budget-friendly fare. It's sure to bring the genre out of the "amateur" stigma to compete with its blockbuster counterparts. The one drawback there, though, is that they might not see some of the same profit as its more frugal predecessors. Compare it to some of the most profitable found footage films of all time, like the one that first started the whole found footage craze, The Blair Witch Project:
The Blair Witch Project came to theaters in 1999 and gave many moviegoers the heebeejeebees. The synopsis of the film is actually summed up for you right in the beginning: “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later, their footage was found.” You find out the students are on a quest to make a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch in the area, and over the course of their journey, they learn about the messed up things that have happened there over the years, on top of running into some scary locals. What’s interesting about this film too is that it was made by film students Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez on a budget of just $22,500 in 1997. A film studio named Artisan Entertainment approached the young filmmakers and bought the film from them for $1.1 million. Add to that the $250 million the film grossed at the box office, and those two amateur film school students are basically set for life. The film also spun a sequel entitled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was not a found footage film.
A much, much, much bigger budget, Cloverfield brought in audiences all asking the same question, “What the hell does this monster look like?!” Will I tell you? No. Am I going to tell you to watch it for yourself to find out? Yes, but you may be able to Google Image it. Also look out for The Interview, “Masters of Sex”, and Mean Girls star Lizzy Caplan. On top of that, Drew Goddard (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Cabin in the Woods) is the writer. That alone has the making for an awesome flick! Fun fact: A friend of mine puked when he saw this in the movie theaters. He blamed it on the shaky handheld camera work and not the fact he’s so scared of everything he still sleeps with the lights on. (Even more fun of a fact: That “friend” is me.)
Paranormal Activity is the film that spawned a whole franchise and scared the living hell out of Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, who was convinced his copy of the DVD was haunted. Israeli-American writer and director Oren Peli accomplished all of this on a mere $15,000 budget. I’m no mathematician, but the amount of money made on the first film and the franchise is something like a trillion-bagillion percent more than that initial budget. Some fun facts about the first one are that certain theaters and festivals played an alternate ending. Also, it was about a year before I finished the movie because a girlfriend of mine at the time thought it was real. She shut it off less than halfway through, which is before there’s really any paranormal activity at all.
From some of the people who are about to bring you Project Alamanac, Chronicle is a film based on a graphic novel of the same name about a group of kids who gain telekinetic abilities by finding a space crystal. Having telekinetic abilities sounds like you would have some harmless fun, but one of the three friends, Andrew, goes off the deep end. You may notice that one of the friends who doesn’t lose his mind with power is none other than Michael B. Jordan, just one year before he gained stardom for his role in Fruitvale Station.
And then there's Project X, which kind of broke the mold for found footage films, especially when it comes to the mainstream. It is neither a science-fiction film nor a horror film (unless you’re ultra-conservative). Instead, it is just an all-teen sex party film that features scenes of gratuitous ribaldry and even a litte person stuck in an oven! Also shot on a small budget, it was a huge success but wasn’t the first comedy to be shot as found footage. That honor may go to the incredibly niche (it opened in maybe six theaters) Harmony Korine 2009 film Trash Humpers. Korine is best known in the mainstream for making the 2013 film Spring Breakers, which people who haven’t seen the film compare to Project X.
(Warning: Slightly NSFW:)
Lastly, we have Cannibal Holocaust, which may not have been a huge success when it was made on a $100,000 budget back in 1980, but it is has an everlasting popularity with cult horror movie fans, like director Eli Roth. Cannibal Holocaust is considered the first found footage film ever made but didn’t gain popularity for that at the time. The film circled around due to accusations of animal cruelty, exploitation of the natives, and suspicion that it was a snuff film. There’s an infamous impalement scene in the film that left many spectators horrified and wandering if what they saw was real. Director Ruggero Deodato was brought to court for these allegations, but after pictorial evidence proving that everything was fake, the cases were dropped.
Now that you’ve gotten a crash course on some of the most famous found footage films around, be sure to check out how Project Alamanac contributes to the genre on January 30!