For years now, the continued existence of the found footage horror movie has become a running joke amongst genre fans. Seemingly endless franchises like Paranormal Activity and REC have squeezed the gimmick for every possible pound of box office cash.
The sub-genre has now reached the point where it is running out of ideas. It’s only March, but 2014 has already dished up two horrendous found footage horror movies in the shape of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Devil’s Due.
It seems like the most persistent irritant in the world of cinema might be hammering the final nails into its proverbial coffin. But will it really happen?
Found Footage Horror: A History
The arrival of found footage as a cinematic tool was arguably the 1971 pseudo-documentary Punishment Park. It was first used in horror with Ruggero Deodato’s ground-breaking Cannibal Holocaust in 1980 – a confrontational film that remains a source of controversy to this day.
Cannibal Holocaust really convinced people of its realism. In fact, Deodato was charged with the real-life murder of his actors, who had signed contracts preventing them from making media appearances to preserve the film’s realism.
The genre then went quiet for 20 years with few examples, but 1999 saw the incredible success of The Blair Witch Project and the found footage horror explosion.
The Blair Witch Project pioneered the modern idea of found footage horror, in which most of the film consists of someone pointing a camera at themselves and screaming. Thanks to one of the most innovative viral campaigns of its time, the film managed to gross almost $250m from a tiny budget of $60,000.
This led to an explosion of the sub-genre in the 2000s. Lots of films were being made that cost very little money, but were making a fortune thanks to their found footage gimmick. Critics battered almost all of the films as lame examples of a tired idea and eventually audiences started to get bored.
Found Footage Horror in 2014
Moving out of the horror genre with films like Chronicle helped give found footage a dab of CPR, but the form is now one of the most persistent problems with modern horror cinema.
The critical battering is still present, but more worryingly for the studios banking on found footage horror, audiences are beginning to vote with their feet. The Paranormal Activity is on a downward box office spiral, and new properties like Devil’s Due are failing to reach the young audience who have now moved on from the horror of the 2000s.
The decline in viewership comes partly because found footage horror is now mostly just bad and reliant on basic tropes above anything innovative or scary. However, it’s also due to the rise of a different sub-genre for the new generation to enjoy.
Horror Goes Indoors
Organically, the confined nature of the found footage genre evolved into a renaissance for the haunted house movie. James Wan, director of Insidious and The Conjuring, has placed himself at the forefront of this most basic of scary premises, which is currently raking in the money for studios.
The Conjuring is getting a sequel and Insidious 3 is also in the pipeline. Add that to the Sinister follow-up and the haunted house genre is looking in rude health indeed.
It looks like found footage horror is finally on its way out, having been usurped by haunted houses and audience fatigue. And not a moment too soon.