Movie Guide: The Future of Found Footage Horrors

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Found footage never went away, it has always been here, contrary to the mainstream media’s claims that “found footage” films are smokin’ hot courtesy of The Devil Inside successful opening weekend.  And I’ve waxed philosophical before here on Shock as to why audiences are fascinated with this narrative device.

Some of it has to do with the curiosity and arousal one gets watching home videos on You Tube where the element of voyeurism is amplified.  Found footage – as far as horror films are concerned – eliminates the need for polished visuals, allowing filmmakers to get creative; however, on an audience level, the raw nature serves a more plausible connective tissue between the screen and the viewer, opening the door for immeasurable ways to create frights.  Take Neil Marshall’s The Descent, for instance.  It’s by no means a found footage film, but what is the one scene that elicits the biggest jump?  When Marshall employs the use of a home video camera, in night vision mode, and in a frantic state, the frame finds a creature lurking just over another character’s shoulder.

Found footage is here to stay, at least until movie-goers completely dismiss the sub-genre.  Then it may go into hibernation, only to be rejuvenated years later.  For now, with Chronicle opening on February 3, I thought we could look ahead at what is to come.  

In alphabetical order…

The Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes

Announced in May 2011, the next film in the Amityville saga – a presumed follow-up to the 2005 remake starring Ryan Reynolds – focuses on a news intern who enlists a priest, a television crew and paranormal investigators for a jaunt through the infamous Long Island abode.  Jason Blum, the producer of Paranormal Activity, is overseeing the project’s development.

Turning an Amityville story into a found footage film is a no-brainer.  It’s so good, they tried it once before, in 2009, when Neal Marshall Stevens was hired by MGM to pen The Amityville Tapes.  But the greatest challenge directors Casey La Scala and Daniel Farrands have is giving audiences something they haven’t already seen before in previous found footage/haunted house, asylum, etc. movies and integrating signature Amityville moments into the story.

Status:  Dimension Films anticipated a January 2012 release, but the film has not begun shooting at the time of this writing.

Area 51

Oren Peli’s sophomore directorial effort has been in the can since November 2009.  Sort of.  While Peli, who has been wearing his producer cap since Paranormal Activity, will remain mum on anything related to Area 51 that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning out whisperings of re-shoots that continue to this day.  Producer Jason Blum told us in an interview that it was a work in progress.  With so many projects in development from Blum/Peli, they can afford to take their time.  However, will similarly-themed Area 51 films being made take the wind out of this film’s sails by the time it comes out?

The film itself, when it reaches the screen, follows a trio of kids who trespass on the eponymous government base and encounter an alien menace that has been set loose. 

Status:  Completion and release date unknown.  Paramount is distributing.

The Bay

This one is an ecological horror film by way of found footage.  Barry Levinson – who directed Diner, Rain Main, Toys and Sleepers – switches gears, exploring a genre he hasn’t really played around in before.

Set in Claridge, Maryland, the story is told from the perspective of the people who left behind their camera phones, their IMS, their 911 calls, and other scraps of video and sound as the town fell into chaos last summer.  Said “chaos” is said to be caused by parasitic organisms that feed on the townsfolk.

Oren Peli and Jason Blum, with Paranormal Activity’s Steven Schneider produce.

Status:  Complete and awaiting a release date from Lionsgate.

Bermuda

Here, the found footage consists of the final days of a documentary film crew that ventures into the Bermuda Triangle.  Again, a no-brainer, I suppose.  “Found footage” is going to permeate every possible thematic angle; it was only a matter of time before the Bermuda Triangle came into play.

Status:  In development at WWE Studios with a script by Bobby Lee Darby and Nathan Brookes.

Cloverfield 2

The avenues J.J. Abrams, Drew Goddard and Matt Reeves could explore are endless.  For instance, the Cloverfield monster’s attack on Manhattan could be told from another perspective, shedding more light on the incident and answering a number of questions the first film asked.  Or, it could be a direct follow-up.  Regardless of the route they take, one thing is certain: They’re going to take their time getting it right.  

Abrams and Reeves have each stated separately that there is an idea for a sequel to the 2008 monster movie, however, each are busy on other projects and do not have the time to flesh Cloverfield 2 out completely.

Status:  On hold/early, early development.

Delivery

A family-themed reality show camera crew follows Kyle and Rachel Massy, a young couple who agree to document their first pregnancy. The production spirals out-of-control after the cameras capture a series of unexplained events, leading Rachel to believe that a malevolent spirit has possessed their unborn child.

Brian Netto directs and I can’t imagine his job was easy considering the “threat” in this film is coming from what lurks in a woman’s womb.

Status:  In post-production.

Episode 50

If there’s any found footage idea that has been exhausted it is the “paranormal experts enter a haunted location and find a real supernatural threat.”  The independent film scene has run this idea into the ground more so than the studios because the idea is cheap and easy (see: Grave Encounters), but it’s not always successful.

This film has two television crews, instead of the usual one, who team up for a special episode and, with a paranormal team, attempt to ban an evil spirit.  The plan doesn’t go so well.

Status:  Coming to DVD April 17

Evidence /  Evidence

Yes, there are two found footage movies on the way carrying the same title.  Who will win out and retain its moniker?  Who will buckle and find a new name?

The first is from director Howie Askins and is about a camping expedition that goes wrong when the main characters encounter a bevy of weirdness out in the woods, including a creature that runs around on four legs, government experiments and more.

The other Evidence comes from director Olatunde Osunsanmi who gave us The Fourth Kind, a film about alien encounters in Alaska and included the puzzling use of dramatic recreations of fictional video interviews (that the studio tried to sell as “real”).  This Evidence opens in the middle of the desert outside of Los Angeles, where a massacre has just occurred. 

The only evidence at the crime scene is the victim’s personal electric devices, including a camcorder, Flip Cam and two cell phones. With nothing else to go on, two detectives must analyze the bits of found footage to piece together the identity of the ruthless killer.

So, a found footage film that doesn’t – as far as we know – involve the supernatural; a nice change of pace.

Status:  Askins’ Evidence – seeking U.S. distribution.  Osunsanmi’s Evidence – in post-production.

The Last Exorcism 2

Although the producers are hesitant to use that title this sequel, it’s what we’ll use for now.  Ed Glass-Donnelly is on board to direct the story which is said to pick up three months after the events of 2010’s The Last Exorcism.  Ashley Bell will return as Nell.  Considering the rather fiery finale of the last film, I’m interested to see how this story will continue.

Status:  In pre-production.

The Lost Coast

Bigfoot by way of found footage.

Set against the backdrop of Northern California, the film, directed by Corey Grant, documents the account of a skeptical journalist who aims to prove there is no such thing as Bigfoot after someone reports they have the body of a dead Sasquatch.

Status:  Seeking distribution.

Paranormal Activity 4

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman from the successful Paranormal Activity 3 are back to direct.  Which direction the story will go is anyone’s guess.

Status:  Opening October 19th from Paramount.

The River

Found footage on television!  Oren Peli brings the technique to the small screen with this “mystery of the week”-style jungle adventure.

Bruce Greenwood plays a famed explorer who goes missing while on the Amazon River.  Months later, his son goes searching for his, with a camera crew and others in tow.  Naturally, they find a lot more than they bargained for out in the wild.

The question here is: Can the found footage angle sustain an entire television series?  Will it break the conventions of the narrative device and perhaps push the aesthetic further?

Status:  Premiering on ABC February 7th.

Thirteen

A found footage tale of possession from writer Benjamin Magid.  Very little is known about the story; it’s been described to have a Flatliners vibe.

Status: In development.

Untitled Bell/Peterman Project

The team behind The Devil Inside – William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman – apply found footage to a “classic” horror mythology: Werewolves.  The story will be set in Romania.  Plot specifics are slim.  Is this film going to give us a werewolf transformation utilizing shaky cam?  Then again, who in their right mind would stand there and film a werewolf transformation especially when said werewolf is going to come and eat you when it’s done with its metamorphosis?

Status: In pre-production.

VHS

David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard and Radio Silence present a found footage anthology film, which apparently was a big hit at Sundance.

Here’s the synopsis from our review:  Tied together with a wraparound story featuring a group of camcorder guerillas who go in search of a videotape that’s hidden somewhere in a (mostly) abandoned house, V/H/S plays like a collection of home movies from some of the weirdest, most unlikeable and eventually scariest people you’ll ever meet. In one segment, a group of poon hound partyboys recruit their dorky friend to hook up with girls and film the act with a hidden camera; in another, four guys are invited to a Halloween party, only to discover that it’s one they should have never rsvp’ed for; and in a third, a quartet of boys and girls drives up into the woods to hang out at the lakeside site of a series of grisly, unexplained murders. Meanwhile, a couple’s road trip turns dangerous after they’re approached for a ride by a mysterious young woman, and a girl enlists her traveling boyfriend via facetime to help document some unexplained activity in her apartment.

Status:  Awaiting a release date from Magnolia Pictures.

The Vatican

Another project from The Devil Inside’s William Brent Bell.  No plot details, but the title gives you a good idea of the story’s backdrop.

Status:  In development at Warner Bros.

The Warning

UK found footage thrills from director Dominic Burns.  

The plot goes like this:  In December 2011 a strange futuristic-looking artifact was uncovered in an uncharted Mayan temple in Mexico – examination of the artifact revealed binary coded information which appeared to be encoded footage. The content was unlocked by students at Chicago state university and appeared to be several hours of video footage heralding the end of the world… time stamped in the near future.  Investigation of those featured in the footage produced several names and the authorities attempted to question those involved about the validity of the footage.   But all of the people featured in this footage have disappeared.

Status:  In production.


Stay tuned for more as we continue our examination of the “found footage” sub-genre with our own writer Tyler Doupe!