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Open Letter: I Miss Found Footage Flicks

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I don’t know about you, but I miss the hell out of found footage flicks. Is it just me? I don’t think so. I think there are plenty of peeps out there that appreciated found footage for what it was/is and would like to see it continue forward.

With that in mind, here is my open letter to whoever might be listening (Blumhouse. Cough. Indie filmmakers. Cough.) to not forget about the once massively popular subgenre of filmmaking.

So let’s get to it.

Paranormal Activity

Found footage got a bad rap seemingly from the moment it was invented. Sure, Cannibal Holocaust garnered massive amounts of controversy – and even underwent a fucking criminal trial – but that was for other issues, of course. That said, I wonder when the film hit if people said, “Oh, it was just an easy/lazy way to make cash” or “God, enough already!” I don’t know. I wasn’t alive back then. But I do know that, specifically, after the massive success of the first Paranormal Activity flick, more and more I began seeing reviews and comments online filled with peeps spewing vile hatred toward the subgenre. I didn’t get it back then, and I still don’t get it to this day. Well, I kinda get it. But I respectfully disagree with the haters.

Speaking of which, here is why I think people HATE found footage. It was/is easy and lazy filmmaking. Not. True. At all. Have you ever attempted to make a found footage film? It’s fucking hard. There are so many “rules” to the genre and hurdles to overcome that it is for all intents and purposes MORE difficult to make a (proper) found footage film. Allow me to explain a bit. First off, films of any and all kinds/subgenres need a certain amount of coverage to express the geography of any particular scene, and the emotional toll the events are having on all of the characters in play. Both very hard to do when you have a subjective point of view. Tip: security cameras help get your wide/establishing shots. Drawback: what if you’re filming in the woods? Exactly.

Lake Mungo

Found footage filmmakers can’t just show up on set and give the classic directions of “Let’s do an establishing shot, punch-in for a medium, then snag over-the-shoulders, singles, and move on.” Doesn’t work like that in found footage. Found footage directors and DPs must always think of creative ways to cover their scenes to put across the necessary information… or have the f*cking scary level of confidence to leave important info off the screen. You know, like people’s reactions to what they are seeing. There is a film out there called Mr. Jones that tried to attach (for lack of a better term) a backward-camera to the main camera, thus showing us not only what our protagonist was looking at, but his/her face the entire time as well, but personally, this only annoyed me and resulted in one of the lesser found footage films I’ve seen. Nice try though. Points for being inventive.

And since we’re on the subject of inventiveness, this is why I love found footage. Out of all the films I have ever seen, the top three that scared me the most (like legit “standing around in a field in broad daylight a week later looking over my shoulder and trying not to cry” scared) are The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Lake Mungo. All three are found footage. Sure, Lake Mungo is more mockumentary, but everyone considers faux-docs a part of found footage, so let’s not split hairs here. Anyhow, I think these scared me so much because the films basically let you live out a horror movie through the eyes of the characters inside the film. I accept this filmmaking innovation (yes, innovation) and love the experience 9/10 times. In fact, it’s hard to find a found footage film I haven’t enjoyed. They exist for sure, but I’m not here to name names. (Other than The Pyramid. Fuck that movie.) But a few flicks aside I dig the idea of watching horror from behind the eyes of the lead(s).

REC

So why not just make movies that assume the position of the protagonist’s actual eyeballs? They have. Hardcore Henry (not horror, but still) and You Are Not Alone both tried this technique and it didn’t work. At least not for this guy. There’s something boring and synthetic about that experience. Hence, the fear is almost impossible to capture. Scary movies tend to work because we as the audience don’t see the filmmaking elements in play in something like The Shining or The Exorcist. Wait, you say, I notice the filmmaking techniques in those films and more. Sure. I get you. But the trick to those films is you shouldn’t notice the cuts and the coverage. The POV films I mentioned above are off-putting because we as modern audiences have learned to disregard things such as editing (especially when cuts are made on movement) and the POV film is merely a constant reminder we are watching a movie.

Found footage, however, splits the difference. Especially in this day and age when people are filming all the time. It feels natural. It feels real. And thus it has the ability to be more fucking bone-shatteringly terrifying than even the most “invisibly-made” standard film. If you buy into it, of course. And therein lies the rub. Lots of folks out there just can’t use “suspension of disbelief” when it comes to found footage. They can buy that 9/11 Godzillas exist and that there are witches in the black hills outside Burketsville, but cannot buy into the reality that those batteries last THAT long, and why the protagonists didn’t just drop the fucking camera and run. Speaking of which, “just drop the fucking camera and run” is something most people get positively furious at. For real. I have engaged in quite a few pro-found footage debates and I have seen detractors literally freak out like the chick in the subway in Possession. The hate runs deep. But I guess I get it. People need logic. Even if the events onscreen defy logic. That’s just the way it is. Fair enough. Never bothers me though. Yes, even when filmmakers incorporate score into their found footage flicks, I’m still with them. I get it. It’s all good.

Creep

All of that ranted and raved, I think found footage should make a comeback. And more specifically, I think found footage should be recognized as a worthy subgenre of horror and not just a fad that happened in the mid-00’s. Found footage should be a constant mainstay at the movies. Meaning VOD, really. Found footage in theaters always kinda defeated the purpose in the first place. But still, who else out there misses found footage and wishes talented filmmakers were still giving the subgenre some love?

Let us know below!

And while we’re on the subject of found footage, make sure to check out Creep 2 on Netflix and The Monster Project, now available on Amazon Prime!

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Editorials

We Need to Stop Our Alarming Obsession With Child Actors

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On Sunday, January 21, Buzzfeed tweeted an article with the statement, “Millie Bobby Brown just Insta-confirmed her relationship with Jacob Sartorius and I have butterflies.” Quite quickly, the tweet was met with a barrage of comments, ranging from mild tuts that it was in poor taste to extreme condemnations of pedophilia and sexualization of a minor (Brown is 13 years old as of this post). I personally weighed in on the matter.

Earlier that day, CNN ran a video and story where actress/director/producer Natalie Portman opened up about her own experiences being a young girl in Hollywood. Portman’s breakout role was at 12 years old in The Professional, a movie that celebrated her phenomenal acting abilities. Per CNN, she received her first fan letter a year later, after the film had come out. In it was a rape fantasy. Her local radio show began counting down the time until her 18th birthday, when she would be of legal age. Mind you, she was 13 when all of this was happening, the same age as Millie Bobby Brown.

The parallels between these two stories should immediately be understood and seen. The sexualization and fanatical obsession with children, much less celebrities, is a plague that can only cause damage and harm to those who are on the receiving end. It is time that we recognize that this practice needs to stop. It is time that we all hold ourselves accountable.

A cursory search of Brown’s name on Buzzfeed will bring up at least 50 separate articles, on top of the one previously mentioned. These include what was said between “Stranger Things” co-star Finn Wolfhard and herself before their kiss in the second season. There’s a strange obsession with Brown’s Instagram account and the conversations between her and other celebrities. There’s even one that states Brown looks like a young Natalie Portman. The irony here is undeniable, and it seems very difficult to say that the site doesn’t have an obsession with the young actress.

Hollywood is under a great deal of pressure, rightfully so, from the #MeToo movement as well as Corey Feldman’s pursuit of revealing the truth about widespread pedophilia in that world (watch as he’s shut down by Barbara Walters). His claims have been echoed by Elijah Wood, although he himself states he did not suffer at the hands of any abusers.

Eliza Dushku’s alleged abuser, Joel Kramer, was recently let go from his agency twenty years after the supposed events took place. When people wonder why the actress didn’t come forward sooner, they overlook the fact that she went to authorities at that time. She details everything in an emotional post on her Facebook page.

The issue, however, does not just lie within those who create in Hollywood. It is exacerbated and pushed on by those who report on Hollywood’s actions and those that read it, lapping up the non-news proclamations with unabashed glee, not recognizing that they are feeding the same system that many are fighting against. Then, even more worrying, is that these “fans” feel entitled to these children, as though they are objects for their pleasure at any time, puppets that need to dance when beckoned.

Sophie Turner (“Game of Thrones”) weighed in with her thoughts on the matter:

Wolfhard himself has asked that the infatuation and near assault of him and his co-workers come to an end:

And yet, even on that particular tweet, Wolfhard’s fans responded with, “Ma babe trust no body,” “I love the right person bixo ♡,” “Love you finn,” and more. “Fans” are declaring their love for a 14-year-old boy that they’ve never met, a person that they’ve only really seen playing someone other than himself.

A culture has been established and reinforced that celebrities are somehow open for our sycophantic obsessions. This needs to stop. We need only to remember our own experiences as children so that we can apply them to these kids today. As Kevin Brown so wonderfully put it on Twitter:

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What’s Next? 5 Horror Trends We Expect Within 5 Years

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Recently I penned an article based on the last Decade of Horror. In said post, I delved into the top three films of each year spanning 2010 – 2017 and attempted to decipher what the trends were throughout our decade thus far.

To say the least, the article was insightful to write up. Witnessing trends ebb and flow and analyzing what floats to the surface time and time again was a fascinating project to take on.

With that knowledge now in my big, bald noggin, I thought it would be interesting to dive a bit into what I believe will be the “Next Big Thing” in horror. We’ve seen found footage. We’ve seen 3-D. We’ve seen it all, right? Not so much.

So here are five trends I expect to see in horror over the next five years.

Enjoy!

***


Black & White & Red All Over

The resurgence of black & white films. This is the one I can all but guarantee is on the horizon and it is going to hit in a big, bad way in the very near future. Black and white creates atmosphere in spades, and it doesn’t cost any extra money.

With films like The Eyes of My Mother and A Girl Walks Home at Night bringing the “old-fashioned” technique back to the forefront of independent cinema – and the recent killer episode of “Black Mirror: Metalhead” directed by David Slade – I believe, like cinema tends to do, there will be a step back towards a more classic era of filmmaking. And black and white horror films will be at the head of that new reverse-renaissance. Mark my words.

Netflix of Horror

A horror streaming giant will rise. Bank on it. While Shudder appears to be the frontrunner, they have yet to become a household name. Unfortunately, I think this is due to too many obscure titles. I love Shudder don’t get me wrong – and I’ve kept my subscription going for several years (as I’m sure you have) – but that said, they seem to be too concerned with horror street cred than pulling in the mainstream crowd.

That’s, of course, not a bad thing, but throw some bullshit teen horror on there and get your subscription numbers up, and Shudder will become the top spot for horror (of all kinds) on these here internets… or continue to be cool and fade away. Make your choice. Again, nothing but love, Shudder. I’d just like to see you become the Netflix of Horror you deserve to be. Someone’s going to take the title soon. I only hope it’s you.

Drone Footage

This is just what it sounds like: movies shot almost exclusively with drones. More and more low-budget filmmakers are employing drones to stunning effect, and it is only a matter of time before someone says “F*ck it” and shoots a flick completely with a drone.

And I’m not talking about found footage here by the way. I’m talking about a movie that breaks down the walls of what we call typical coverage in a film – horror or not. But considering horror is always at the forefront of innovation in the world of cinema, I think drone movies will begin in the horror genre. No more steady-cams, no more cranes, tripods, helicopters, or dolly tracks. Imagine sweeping camera moves of not only landscapes but intimated conversations as well.

Imagine we’re close on someone’s eyes, then we pull out into an over-the-shoulder, then we begin to steady-cam around them as they kiss (or kill, whatever) and then we pull back higher and higher into a glorious wide of the sun setting behind the trees. Shots like this weren’t possible (on a low budget) before drones. Get creative. Forget the rules of coverage (other than the 180 rule) and push cinema to new heights.

That said, I concede that such dialogue scenes will need to be dubbed and shadows/reflections caused by the camera will need to be monitored closely, but these are already the issues any filmmaker takes on when making a flick. One day we will get epic drone films, and they are going to be low-budget stunning on the level of mega-budget movies ala Dunkirk. I cannot wait.

Fan Films

Sooner or later all of us fans are going to get sick and tired of waiting for someone at the major studios to get off the butts and make another entry in the TCM, Friday the 13th, NOES series. With technology what it is nowadays people are going to just start making them themselves. They’ll be putting real time and effort into these films as calling cards, and they might even break the studio system this way.

Hell, we’ve already seen the start with such quality flick as the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone. And I see no reason that the films couldn’t end up being ballsier and better than anything a studio could put out.

But they can’t make money. True. But again they will function as calling cards for future filmmakers. And have you ever seen how expensive film school is? Yikes. Better to slap a hockey mask and a GoPro to your dumbass friend Brian and have him chase your little sister around the backyard. Just work your way up from there.

One-Month Movies

One-Month Movies. Or Flash Flicks. Or something like that. It’s an appealing gimmick to be sure. Filmmakers will begin making movies for all intents and purposes as fast as they possibly can. Pure creativity without overthinking the final product.

Scary prospect. But a thrilling one as well. I know I’d be up for watching what filmmakers like Adam Wingard, Mike Flanagan, and hell maybe even John Carpenter could come up within one month’s time. It’s like DIY king Robert Rodriguez once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) digital filmmaking is like a painting; you can just begin and let the mood and inspiration take over.

These “One-Month Movies” will be exciting and fresh… or utter disasters. Either way, they will be worth watching. But these films will need a platform for their releases. And once the Netflix of Horror I described above comes to grandiose fruition, then we will be seeing these films more and more. At least I hope.

***

And those are the 5 horror trends I expect to see over the next 5 years. Do you agree? Is there something you think I’ve left out? Let us know below!

Until then give the video below a quick watch. It’s simple and amateur but the (no doubt kids) behind the video have the right idea. Drones plus black & white footage, plus the score to The Shining creates killer atmosphere. Just wish the framing was a bit better. All the same, there are moments in the video that will sell these ideas to you instantly.

Enjoy?

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Brennan Went To Film School

Brennan Went to Film School: Unlocking the Hidden Meaning in Insidious: The Last Key

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“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS FOR INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Blumhouse had quite a year last year, didn’t they? In addition to having three number one hits on their hands, the racial satire Get Out is their first horror entry to get awards traction thanks to its deeper themes. Now that everyone is starting to take the company and its work a little more seriously, it’s time to bring out the big guns and dive right into some deeper analysis into a much more unlikely subject: Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth entry in their tentpole haunted house franchise might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s the Get Out of the Me Too era, telling a story of women’s struggles while predicting the downfall of powerful, abusive men that started to occur during its production process with eerie accuracy.

No, seriously. Let’s start by taking a look at the villain. Unusually for this franchise, the baddies are both paranormal and human: halfway through the film it is revealed that the haunting victim who has called Lin Shaye’s Elise and her crew is also a sadistic killer who has chained up a woman in his basement. This is also revealed to be the very same thing Elise’s father did many decades before. The film implies that both men are being influenced by the key-wielding demon that inhabits the house.

Key imagery is very important to the film as a whole (I mean come on, it’s literally in the freakin’ title) and its themes of Elise arriving to her childhood home to unlock the secrets of her past. But there’s more than one meaning to that imagery, and understanding those meanings is the key to unlocking the subtext of the film, if you’ll allow me a really obvious pun.


The demon KeyFace might be influencing the men, but they’re still receptive to the idea. That’s because he’s awakening something that was already inside them. KeyFace represents the pure male id; the unconscious, animalistic desires and drives that lay buried in the psyche. He’s not forcing them to behave in this way, he’s just unlocking their darker impulses.

It’s no coincidence that the demon’s lair is the bomb shelter basement. The house has now become a road map of her father’s mind, with his strongest emotions (and the literal place where he keeps his abused women secreted away) hidden in a sublevel that isn’t visible from the surface. This is the very same basement where he locked up Elise while punishing her for insisting that her visions were real. He wanted her to keep her psychic gifts locked away, probably so she wouldn’t discover his own submerged secrets.

Elise encounters a variety of keys during her journey that allow her to penetrate deeper and deeper into The Further, the house, her past, and the hideous truth about the men in her life. These keys unlock doors, suitcases, chains, and cages, but the most important unlocks the truth… and turns the attention of the evil upon her and her two nieces.

The probing of these women ignites the fury of KeyFace and he takes her niece Melissa into the basement (another buried sublevel that must be unlocked), inserting a key into her neck and rendering her mute, then stealing her soul with a second key plunged into her heart. He is only vanquished when Elise and her other niece Imogen team together and use a family heirloom – a whistle – to summon Elise’s mother’s spirit.

On the surface, this seems like an inspiring story of three generations of women helping each other to face a great evil. This is certainly true, but now we have the key to understanding exactly what’s happening here. When a young woman discovers the abuse being perpetrated in her house, the figure of pure, wicked male desire literally steals her voice, silencing her. In order to restore that voice, another woman who knows the truth must very literally become a whistleblower.

…Did I just blow your mind?

At its heart, Insidious: The Last Key presents a world where women must rely on other women to provide them a voice and their very survival in a world dominated by powerful men and their ugly, dirty secrets. Secrets that they will do anything to keep locked away. There may be slightly more ghosts in Insidious than in real life, but that’s a frighteningly close parallel with the ugliness currently being revealed in Hollywood – as well as the world at large. It probably won’t tear up the Golden Globes next year, but this film is just the next important stepping-stone after Get Out in Blumhouse’s use of the genre to dig deep into the real life horrors plaguing our society.


Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!


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