Found footage has been around for decades. When done right, it offers a uniquely spine-chilling experience unlike any other horror subgenre. And when paired with a trippy bong and the right strain, these found-footage horror movies like Incantation (2022) will have you sleeping with one eye open for days to come.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
A list of found-footage horror must, naturally, begin with The Blair Witch Project. The film was by no means the first to employ the style, yet it would come to define the genre. Incantation is a stunning example of how far-reaching The Blair Witch Project’s influence goes, though the Chinese film does manage to offer its own unique, creepy spin on the style, particularly by centering it on a mother’s love for their child.
The movie that started it all, however, followed three amateur filmmakers who hiked into the hills in search of the fabled Blair Witch. The trio soon disappeared, but their footage is later recovered and fashioned into the film in question.
What made The Blair Witch Project infamous was that it was initially marketed as being real. This earned it some amount of criticism. Ultimately, however, the film’s greatest claim to fame is its status as one of the best horror movies ever made.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
While most horror fans are quite aware of the Blair Witch Project, fewer might know of the films that inspired it. Particularly, the first-ever found-footage horror film, Cannibal Holocaust.
The film follows a rescue team led by anthropologist Harold Monroe. They make their way into the Amazon rainforest after a film crew goes missing there. Soon, they chance upon the crew’s lost films, a property they will soon have to defend from a television station hoping to cash in on it.
The film was naturally noted for its horror and gore. In fact, the film’s violence is so convincing, director Ruggero Deodato was charged with several counts of murder because viewers were convinced the film showed real footage of actors being killed. He was, of course, cleared of these charges after proving them false.
Beyond its horror, though, the film is actually a rather nuanced take on sensationalism and ethics in journalism.
The Last Broadcast (1998)
Another film that significantly impacted the found-footage genre is The Last Broadcast. It follows the story of a crew on an expedition to locate the mythic Jersey Devil. Unfortunately for them, the real devil is in their midst.
In addition to its legacy in horror movies, the film also holds the distinction of being the first feature-length film to be shot and edited entirely on consumer-level digital equipment. In other words, it cost barely anything to make but went on to earn millions and remains a cult classic.
Haunted Asylum (2018)
Incantation has drawn comparisons to several other East Asian mockumentary horror movies. It does hold its own, and in terms of creep factor, it is easily up there with films like Haunted Asylum.
The movie follows the crew of a horror web series who, in hopes of increasing their views, visit an abandoned asylum for a live broadcast. And, as tends to be the case with tales of this nature, they find a lot more than they bargained for once they get there.
Most found-footage movies focus on a crew attempting to uncover mysteries and horrors. Cloverfield, however, takes a slightly different route.
The film follows a group of New Yorkers whose day begins rather ordinarily: they make plans for a friend’s going away party. But amid the celebration – and ensuing drama – Lady Liberty’s head comes hurtling toward their street.
Turns out, they picked the wrong day for a party.
My Little Eye (2002)
My Little Eye is a unique film floating in the sea of mockumentary horror. Particularly because it isn’t technically found footage. It does, however, use many of the standard filmmaking and storytelling techniques of the genre.
The film follows five people who apply to live in an isolated mansion for six months. Whoever makes it out without quitting wins a million dollars. Unfortunately, there is far more at stake than just the chance to win a life-changing amount of money.
With the recent popularity of shows like Squid Game, it’s easy to see movies of yore such as this one resurface. And despite its limited budget, My Little Eye does manage to deliver some pretty unsettling commentary veiled behind its horror and gore.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Among found-footage horror movies like Incantation, there are a select few that are as chilling. An intriguing and fresh take on the genre, The Taking of Deborah Logan is definitely one of the few that will get under your skin.
The film follows a team of students who set out to document an elderly woman’s experiences as someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. But the team soon realizes something far more sinister lurks beneath her erratic symptoms.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The mockumentary genre has delivered numerous gems over the decades. But very few managed to make the absolute most of the style quite in the way Paranormal Activity did.
A young couple moves into their new home in San Diego. Owing to past experiences with haunting, they set up cameras to capture anything paranormal. What they discover becomes progressively more unsettling.
The film is a masterclass in how to build tension without needing a massive budget and CGI monsters. Like The Blair Witch Project, it would go on to set the benchmark for the genre and remains one of the best found-footage horror movies out there.
The Bay (2012)
As the title implies, this mockumentary takes place in a bayside town. But unlike much of the found-footage content out there, this is one of the few that comes pretty close to the genre’s roots in that it is a horror film with a cause.
Claridge is a simple, scenic town. It relies on its water supply, largely because it keeps its tourism and chicken industries afloat. Yet, when chicken excrement starts being dumped into the water, residents begin raising alarms. Mayor Stockman, however, refuses to take their concerns seriously, because money is at stake.
The Bay is, essentially, an updated version of Jaws (1975), except instead of Spielberg’s style it’s a mockumentary, and instead of killer sharks, we’re treated to a town terrorized by a parasitic outbreak.
Lake Mungo (2008)
Like Paranormal Activity, Lake Mungo is a slow burn that relies more on building tension that culminates in absolute terror.
The film begins with the drowning of sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer. When her untimely demise sparks what her family believes to be hauntings, they begin to record the happenings in their home. They hope to find a way to capture their experience. Instead, they begin to uncover Alice’s secrets.
Lake Mungo is a testament to good filmmaking, despite it being as underrated as it went on to be. Director Joel Anderson delivers a chilling, almost surreal experience. And while he employs several trademarks of the genre, he does so in superbly subtle ways that you only really notice if you’re paying close attention. Found-footage horror movies like Incantation rely much more on blood-curdling horror and anticipation than jumpscares, and Lake Mungo is easily one of the best in the style.
The Medium (2021)
This Thai-Korean film is one of the best found-footage horror movies of 2021. It is centered on a shaman named Nim. After she begins claiming to be possessed by the spirit of a local goddess named Ba Yan, a crew travels to the small town of Isan to document the occurrence. Once they reach it, however, mysterious events begin to occur.
Despite being a mockumentary, The Medium does a stunning job of capturing the Thai culture and beauty amid which its horror unfolds. As far as found-footage horror movies like Incantation go, this one is a must-watch.
Spanish film REC made a massive splash when it dropped. It earned both commercial success and critical acclaim and remains one of the best movies in both the found-footage and larger horror genres.
It follows a young reporter and her cameraman who set out to cover the night shift at a local fire station. When the officers get a panicked call from an elderly woman trapped in her building, the team set out to investigate.
Once they reach, however, they find themselves locked inside with a terrifying – and rapidly growing – evil.
Willow Creek (2013)
A young couple sets out to capture evidence of Bigfoot. They decide to camp in the forest for a Mockumentaries generally teeter on the edge of real and supernatural. Some, however, such as Trollhunter, embrace fantasy and fiction. And in doing so, they manage to craft something rather unique.
few nights, and along the way, take their relationship to the next stage.
Unfortunately, romance finds a twisted ending as they are absorbed into the forest’s strange ways.
Much like The Medium, Trollhunter is more than just a regular mockumentary. It is crafted around Norwegian folktales and is a wonderful glimpse into the country’s culture. It’s also a pretty good glimpse into the unique brand of dry humor that the country seems to do so well.
Following a string of mysterious bear killings, a team of film students sets out to capture evidence of what they believe to be trolls. Unfortunately for them, the real terror is what lies behind the truth.
With the superhero genre dominating screens for decades, it might feel done to death. The same, of course, could be said of the mockumentary genre. Yet, Chronicle somehow managed to breathe new life into both.
A trio of teens accidentally gain superpowers while attempting to film a crater in a forest. When they find the powers give them quite the social boost, they begin to have fun with it. Until, of course, things begin to go terribly wrong.
Chronicle is an interestingly dark take on how not all those imbued with powers are capable of carrying the burden it brings with it.
V/H/S (2012) & V/H/S 2 (2013)
The V/H/S franchise is an interesting addition to the found-footage genre. As opposed to a single tale, each film is an anthology of bite-sized horrors.
V/H/S begins with a gang of criminals being tasked with robbing a house. Their goal is a single VHS tape. Once they enter, they find the corpse of a man sat in front of several televisions playing white noise. As the crew attempts to locate their target, one tape left in the VCR begins telling four more creepy tales.
The franchise holds a unique distinction of managing to make a second film that surpassed the first. This one begins with private investigators looking into the disappearance of a college student. They uncover a stack of tapes in his dorm, leading them down a path with no return.
What We Do in the Shadows
There’s a lot to love about the mockumentary style of filmmaking. Unlike most other genres, this style allows a filmmaker to explore the line between television and reality. And along that line exists a glimpse into the human mind. It is, essentially, an actualized version of the early 2000s Creepypasta phase.
And as these found-footage horror movies like Incantation demonstrate, you don’t need a huge budget to deliver some good quality scares.
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