Found footage fatigue

As a brand new found footage-based TV show is announced, Simon wonders if it's time to admit that found footage fatigue has long since kicked in...

Found footage

Earlier this week, news rolled in that Paul W S Anderson was the latest to investigate jumping aboard the found footage bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon that, in its recent guise, spluttered back into life with Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, and continues to generate a notable number of projects. You’d hardly accuse it of taking over cinema, but it’s still a fad that doesn’t seem to have too many other places to go.

Paul W S Anderson is now looking to take it to the small screen, with The Reel, a psychological thriller series which follows a documentarian on the search for proof of the supernatural. The show is in development now, with Anderson and Jeremy Bolt executive producing, based on a spec script from Adam D’Alba.

Now, it may be that D’Alba has found an intriguing take on the found footage genre, and I dearly hope that he has. Certainly if he weaves in the found footage as a flashback component, rather than making it the driving force of the project, he may be on surer ground. Having not read the spec script that he penned, I’m in no position to judge just what he’s managed to come up with. So I won’t.

But I do suspect that I’m not alone in tiring of the increasing predictability of found footage projects.

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In the past few years, on top of the aforementioned Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity movies, we’ve had the likes of [REC] (and its English language remake, Quarantine), Apollo 18, Troll Hunter and The Last Exorcism showing that it’s an approach that can reap dividends of reasonable-to-good quality. On the flip side, how many of us remember The Tapes, The Tunnel, Grave Encounters, Delivery, Atrocious or Trash Humpers? There may be a gem in there, but I’m not sure I’ve got the desire to sit through many of them.

And the reason is that found footage movies have become so increasingly predictable. Furthermore, the shock value of the found footage approach has diluted, and most of us now fully expect a quiet first two acts, before all manner of shit goes on, handily captured by a video camera picked up in the Currys sale. Or on a phone. That’s even cheaper.

Bluntly, found footage has lost its impact.

Back when The Blair Witch Project first appeared, it wasn’t the movie that brought the found footage idea to the screen first, but it still did it at a point when it felt fresh, and different. It brought a different perspective to horror movies.

Man Bites Dog, released seven years before it, used the found footage approach (although we didn’t call it that then) to increase the sense of voyeurism and, arguably, complicity in the horrific events that the film portrayed. As a consequence, found footage was entirely the correct approach, and was clearly chosen for its storytelling impact.

In the past three years, however, at least 30 found footage movies have been released in one form or another. In the 1990s, we could count only five in total. Film makers, unsurprisingly, are battering a golden goose to death.

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There are, of course, still opportunities to use the approach to do something a little different. Chronicles, released early next year, looks a bit more interesting. It’s crossing the idea of found footage with superpowers, and the maiden trailer we’ve seen suggests it might just hang together. Conversely, it’s been a year since Roland Emmerich abandoned his planned low-budget alien invasion found footage movie, The Zone, with the suggestion being that it was over-saturation back then which led to the $5m-budgetted film biting the dust.

Given that the advantage of found footage movies is just how cheap they are to make (the idea is, after all, that they have a rough and ready feel about them), it’s interesting that, twelve months ago, $5m seemed too much to gamble on one. Other forces may have been at work, there.

The Reel certainly isn’t a TV project to write off, and I’ll be intrigued to see how it comes together. But I do think it’s going to have to work doubly hard to benefit from the impact found footage can have.

Found footage fatigue has, it seems, long since begun to settle in. It’s going to take some strong new thinking to budge it.

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