Found Footage (Comparison)

I keep tripping over these things for some reason so I thought it might be fun to do a bit of a compare/contrast on some of the “found footage” style movies we’ve watched recently.

You’re probably aware of this, but “found footage” refers to a movie which is shot as though it was discovered on someone’s hand-held camera and then adapted for a wider audience.  It’s largely reviled as “shaky cam” because, as anyone who watches youtube videos knows, the average person with a hand-held camera absolutely sucks at keeping things in frame.  It’s a double edged sword because if you make it too shaky, people get nauseous or can’t tell what’s going on and it’s stupid.  If you make it too steady it’s pretty obvious it’s actually a movie camera mounted on special equipment, handled by professionals, which ruins the whole atmosphere of “oh shit they found this footage and the people in it are missing and no one knows what will happen!” which is kind of the point of it.  It’s usually resigned to cheap horror movies because of the premise and the ability to use the shakiness to obscure the scariest bits to good effect (assuming they use it to good effect, and not just “annoying as shit” effect, that is).

I was going to start with the worst movie first, but then I realized I couldn’t decide which one was the worst.  Conundrum.  I think I will start with The Bay just because I have the most bitching to do about it.

The Bay is a “found footage” film in that it is a recap of a lot of news video that is recorded during a Fourth of July celebration – so there’s a plausible reason for the cameras to be rolling at the time, and for them to keep rolling as things get worse and worse.  There is also a plausible reason for the characters in the film to be reviewing the footage, as they piece together everything that happened.  There are a number of personal cameras mixed in to show some different viewpoints, and also some police car cams.  All of them have plausible reasons for being on and capturing the events, and they do a good job of making the personal cameras be of a believable quality compared to the professionally run news cameras.  So as far as found footage goes, this is a pretty good example of how to do it, although I think the movie could have been done equally well with traditional camera angles so I’m not really sure the found footage angle does anything other than offer a unique way to frame things.  In most cases you find the footage and it’s all “oh no what is going to happen these people are missing do they die???” but in this one it’s like “Hi I’m a reporter and this is my news footage from that day”.  It works, but it doesn’t add anything to the atmosphere.

The movie is kind of another story.  It was okay but the plot was kind of a giant /facepalm.  I wasn’t expecting much out of a cheesy horror movie, but my biology degree got in the way.  The minute they started explaining the “symptoms” I was like “hey they based this on a real parasite!” and then the movie goes on to explain that it is, in fact, that exact parasite.  They even had the same images from the internet that show up in every “ewww gross!” images thread on your forum of choice.  At least they had the sense to make it mutated from pollution (vague references to nuclear waste as a bonus!) but a lot of it just doesn’t add up.  Why did it break out town-wide in a single day? Why were some people not affected despite that?  Why would the parasites kill their host so quickly? (the real ones are pretty clever and often used as an example of ingenious parasite-host relationships, while the movie ones probably wouldn’t survive very long.  Then again, mutations aren’t necessarily for the better so this subspecies would just die out quickly I guess).  Bonus /facepalm for describing the bay as a huge deadzone, then showing millions and millions of fish floating around in it.  Then describing purifying the bay by flooding it with chlorine, but then explaining the same ratio of deadzone to not-deadzone still applies afterward.  Sigh.  Okay I’m done nerding out over that.

Long story short: If you’re looking for a cheesy “monster movie” where the monster is a cross between zombies and contagion, you might want to hunt down The Bay.  The decent parts of the movie (such as they were) were not spoiled with the above, I promise.

Next up is V/H/S.  This is classic cheesy horror movie and is entirely done in found footage style (VHS footage, to be exact).  The biggest knock against this movie is that it’s an anthology (with each story done by a different team of people, I think), and there’s a tiny bit of crossover (the guys are recording themselves and find the footage of the other stories which they then watch and sometimes react to) which is just enough to leave you thinking “okay so something will wrap this all up in the end”, but then it just ends and you’re like “………I guess not.”  When you go to wikipedia and half of the entries are like “This is probably what happened” you know a movie does not explain things very well.  Fortunately it wasn’t trying to explain things, it was just trying to be creepy, and it did that pretty well.

I think this is a good example of found footage.  A lot of the sequences go on a bit too long before anything interesting happens (it’s an awful lot like having to sit through someone’s shitty home movies except at least you can balance your total lack of interest with the knowledge that something fucked up will eventually happen), but the film uses VHS glitches to good effect in a number of places which validates the choice for a found footage angle.  Some of the stories have a more modern slant (using skype or whatever) and throw in digital glitches for a change of pace.  There are a lot of unique things in the movie that I enjoyed seeing and it was done well enough that it took it from “cheap stupid horror movie” to “reasonably interesting horror movie”.  Unfortunately, the cheap nature of the movie is thrown right back in front by constantly trying to rely on porn to sell a scene.  I mean, okay maybe it’s more realistic that they’re filming the scene if they think someone is going to get naked, but it happens way too fucking often.  It kept pulling me out of the movie to make me think “oh look they’re using boobs to sell another scene.”

The movie as a whole probably went on a bit too long for something with no plot, but it’s worth checking out next time you have a halloween movie fest or something.

The final movie, and definitively the best, is End of Watch.  It would be insulting to describe the movie alongside the other two if it weren’t for the found footage choice.  Ironically, this movie should not be found footage.  It is by far the worst thing about the movie.

WHY is this movie found footage?  The premise for it (filming “a day in the life” as some sort of video diary) is weak, it’s constantly pointed out and challenged during the film (Turn that camera off.  Stop filming this!), but no one ever does anything about it, and it’s constantly abandoned to get a better angle on a scene.  I found it incredibly distracting because every fourth shot I’d yell “WHO IS HOLDING THE CAMERA.  NO ONE IN THE ROOM IS HOLDING THAT FUCKING CAMERA.”  Oh and by the way, the bad guys are also – completely coincidentally we swear! – filming everything they do and say.

There is no fucking reason for this to be found footage.  It’s almost painfully apparent that it was an idea they had and then the movie evolved beyond it but they clung to it instead of scrapping it for the bad idea it was.

The rest of the movie is great, and probably reasonably realistic, as long as you don’t mind criminals with automatic weapons not being able to hit fucking anything they aim at.  It’s kind of depressing and the “twists” are pretty obvious, but as long as you’re prepared for that you’ll probably enjoy it.

So there we have it: Two examples of found footage done reasonably well and in proper context, and one that arguably is one of the sole things bringing down the quality of the movie it is featured in.  Found footage is something that is so damn noticeable that you have to be very careful with how you use it, because it’s going to overpower the movie.  You better be prepared for it when you plan things out.

Also, fuck the haters, I liked Cloverfield.  So there.

About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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