Considering I’ve got two more posts about found film horrors this month, I’d say this is definitely a good question to ask. And really, though I love a lot of subgenres in horror films, found film is definitely my favorite. There’s just something about it that is going to scare me every damn time, no matter the plot, and I keep coming back to it over and over again.
Quick note before we begin: I will be dropping gifs of different found film horrors, but none of them will be jump scares. Most of them will be like this Paranormal Activity one below where it just makes it obvious that it’s found film, so no need to scroll with fear or run away entirely!
I also have an entire post dedicated to the Paranormal Activity franchise coming out this month because that’s one of the few franchises where I literally do not care about the plot or the characters at all, I’m just here to watch a movie through my fingers and then not be able to walk around my house at night. Like, why do I do this to myself? It doesn’t actually make any sense. I have this old, deep-seated fear of bloody Mary from when one of my childhood friends tormented me with it, and, to this day, I’m still terrified of mirrors. When I still shared a room with my sister, you’d have to turn the hall light off at the end of the hall, right next to a mirror, and I would legitimately sprint away from the mirror after I’d turned the light off. If you combined that with watching a found film horror, well. Then I wasn’t turning the light off at all.
My first experience with found film was, like many, I think, The Blair Witch Project. We live across the street a forest, which is rather small in the grand scheme of things, particularly given that there’s a highway on the other side of it, but, to a newly overconfident teenager watching a scary movie without her parents and with her younger brother, that forest looks a lot bigger and far more treacherous. We also watched it at night with all the windows open, so, like? It was definitely our own fault that it scared us so much. Even still, though, if I go back and watch Blair Witch now, it still scares me. There’s something about the shaky camerawork, the relying on an unreliable narrator to show you what’s happening, the suspense and uncertainty, and jfc, whenever a camera drops and it’s anyone’s game what’s going to end up crawling by.
I mean, the same can be said for why people watch reality TV shows. I mean, let’s be real here, Naked & Afraid is the dumbest thing in the world, but I’ll also sit down and watch it for hours on end because it’s so interesting. Putting people in difficult situations and then filming it is probably masochistic of us to watch, but I don’t know a single person that doesn’t like at least one reality TV show. And even if you don’t specifically sit down to watch it, there’s at least one you can think of that you wouldn’t turn off if it was on in the background. And that, for me, is always going to be found film horror.
It makes it so real, too, like this might have actually happened. I recently watched The Vatican Tapes, and while that only employs a small amount of found film elements, the times that they did were often the scariest moments of the movie. It feels like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be, like a camera really has been found lost in the woods somewhere, like if you open this terrifying unknown video, a girl might actually crawl out of your well and come to haunt you. No, The Ring is not found film, but it does employ those elements in house the horrific events in the movie start to unfold. I’m now realizing, too, how many years it’s been since I watched The Ring, and I just–maybe let’s let a few more years pass by.
lol @ me trying to find a gif from Quarantine that isn’t hella scary right now
My favorite is, obviously, when found film and exorcisms coexist. I mean, it’s the best way to tell the story of an exorcism, honestly. Already, there’s so much bad press around exorcisms (for good reason), and they’re just the perfect fodder for horror movies, but then to add the found film element? Well, suddenly you’ve turned it into something that people are going to wonder if it might have been inspired by something true, even if it doesn’t say it, or if this is actually what it looks like to be possessed. All of a sudden, people are looking at these movies, like The Devil Inside, and wondering about the reality of this world we still kind of keep in the shadows.
Truly, I think it’s the reality element that makes found film so good. It doesn’t feel like just another movie that you’re watching. It doesn’t feel like sitting down with The Grudge or The Purge, like you’re just here for a spooky good time. It feels like something you shouldn’t be watching, and not because it’s too scary, but because it’s too close to an actual truth, like maybe this was supposed to stay hidden. I also love that there’s very rarely magic involved, or other supernatural horror elements. Sure, exorcisms have got demons and Catholic lore, and many of these employ ghosts, but, at the very core of found film is human beings being tormented. We don’t ever really see the supernatural elements, if they’re there, because it’s not about that. It’s about witnessing our fellow humans experience something terrifying. The Blair Witch Project works so well not because it gives any concrete proof of existence of something horrible out in the woods–it actually doesn’t do that at all, and it works because, instead, we’re given the sole perspective of people we can relate to.
Hopefully, by the time this posts, I’ll have watched As Above, So Below because it has been calling to me from practically beyond the grave, and I’m so hopeful that it’s going to scare the living daylights out of me.
Update: As Above, So Below might actually be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my entire existence.