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Why do found-footage movies like Chronicle still work?

The "found footage" (aka, shaky cam) format of filming isn't something new, but the past few years have had their share of them. At what point do we get tired of it?

I know of a few people who freely admit they were fooled by The Blair Witch Project. Yes, though I am not one of them, there are people who were legitimately fooled into thinking that the “found footage” of some kids’ nightmarish ordeal in the Maryland woods was real. To this day I sill wonder if having that sense of ridiculous awe — believing all along that the Blair Witch film was real — would have made it a better movie for me. I tend to think it would, but then again I’m not sure I can imagine ever believing it in the first place.

Though The Blair Witch Project was a huge success — especially when taking into account its budget-to-earning ratio — I’m wondering why we’ve seen a resurgence of the found-shaky-footage-cam method of filming and storytelling in recent years. Ones that come to mind: Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity (1, 2 and 3), Apollo 18, The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside, and — most recently — Chronicle. But these films differ from The Blair Witch Project in a couple of big ways. Besides the first Paranormal Activity movie, their budgets were quite a bit higher than that of Blair Witch Project. Also, any possibility of someone actually being fooled into believing this found footage could be real is completely gone at this point … I hope.

So what is it about this filming style that’s attracting studios to keep making them? Most seem to do moderately well in the box office, and their ratings overall seem to be rather positive, but I’d like to know what about them is attracting these good reviews. Is it that the technique of making the film look like it was legitimately shot with a shitty camcorder gets high props the more convincing it is? Is it that the acting really looks like these people are truly experiencing what’s happening on-screen? That they almost pass as convincing?

At what point do these found-footage/documentary-style movies go over the top in the subject matter they’re covering? Giant monsters? Check. Outer space? Check. Superpowers? Yep. I’m not sure there’s anything left! What’re your thoughts on the matter? Why do you love or hate these kinds of films, and why are they still working?

Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for the upcoming movie, Chronicle. It looks pretty cool but … it’s another docu-style movie. Why?

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Categories: Features, General, News

3 Responses to “Why do found-footage movies like Chronicle still work?”

January 4, 2012 at 11:15 PM

out of the examples you listed, the only one I really enjoyed was Cloverfield. We’ve all seen monster movies … and to have the perspective of what it would be like to actually be there at the scene when a monster is attacking (as if it really was happening) has a certain appeal. It was different … and at least I thought it was extremely well done.

I think the genre succeeds because it provides a different perspective of a story … one where you are watching something unfold but are limited to seeing only what the camera captured … not the overall, or birds eye perspective that normal movies provide. Done right, it can be real creepy … done poorly … it is just bad cinema. I think in general, people are inquisitive (nosey) and these films satisfy the voyeur in all of us … that we’re seeing something we should not be seeing …

I wasn’t aware that Chronicle was one of this genre though … I was just interested in that it takes place in or around Seattle (though probably filmed in Vancouver like most everything is).

January 8, 2012 at 9:45 AM

I personally can NOT understand how this method keeps being used. To me it doesn’t make the acting better, but worse, like the director has to say “act more natural, act like you wouldn’t want to punch this idiot in the face for trying to get you to talk into a camcorder after something really tragic just happened”…I didn’t find Blair Witch scary, and as much as I wanted to believe, I knew it was fake. I DID appreciate that something new was being done and the IDEA was scary. I liked parts of Cloverfield but I just kept wishing that they would switch off the “cam” and have some of it “normal” and I was actually ANGRY at how bad Paranormal Activity was. That train wreck made me swear that I would never fall for the hype again. I actually changed my plans when I read that The Devil Inside was filmed this way. Of course, most of the reviews are terrible! I guess since “reality TV” is
still so popular they want films to seem more “real”…great post BTW because I was just having this conversation with a friend!

January 9, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Saw the trailer for this for the first time this weekend, and my interest was piqued.

I’m not sure though that I’ve personally been over-saturated on these “found footage” movies … I’ve only seen one on the list that you mentioned (Cloverfield). They seem to be a staple of the horror genre, which I generally stay away from.

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