Total Recall

10 Found Footage Films

In this week's Total Recall, we present a list of found footage movies from a variety of genres, inspired by Earth to Echo.

by | July 2, 2014 | Comments

Found Footage

It took a surprisingly long time for it to happen, but with this weekend’s Earth to Echo, found footage comes home to roost in the family film genre — and in honor of this adorably Amblinesque blend of 1980s all-ages fun and 21st-century technique, we decided to take a look at some of the more well-reviewed examples of a filmmaking style that’s definitely taken its share of critical lumps over the years. Naturally, there’s plenty of horror in here, but just like a group of kids heading off into the woods to debunk an urban legend, you might find a few surprises too. Power up that handheld camera, because it’s time for Total Recall!

The Bay


A found footage horror movie from the guy who gave us Rain Man and The Natural? It sounds like a disaster, but in Barry Levinson’s The Bay, the only disaster is what we’re doing to our water supply — specifically in Chesapeake Bay, where the refusal of one town’s mayor to heed researchers’ warnings of lethal toxicity lead to a horrific outbreak of a mutant breed of tongue-eating louse. Freaky stuff, and well-handled by Levinson, who rebounded from a string of wretched stinkers like Envy and Man of the Year by using the inherent raw immediacy implied by found footage in pursuit of a timely (and obviously deeply felt) message. “Levinson’s film proves something pretty unequivocally,” argued Jason Gorber for Twitch. “Any conceit, any style, be it found footage or shakycam or haunted house or whatever, can be great in the hands of a good filmmaker.”

The Blair Witch Project


No surprises here — The Blair Witch Project spawned the current found-footage craze, and there’s no way we were leaving it off this list, even if it has become a sort of whipping boy for the many inferior knockoffs inspired by its runaway success. And although, looking back, it really only has a few truly potent scares, it strings them out so patiently — and uses its then-novel narrative gimmick so well — that it’s easy to understand how Blair Witch scared the dickens out of so many filmgoers, particularly during the days of its early release, when it was still rumored to be culled from actual footage left behind by the Witch’s real-life victims. “The Blair Witch Project is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen,” decreed Lloyd Rose for the Washington Post. “Not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest or the slimiest… Just flat out the scariest.”



Before 2012, the superhero and found-footage genres might not have seemed like the most natural of companions — but as Chronicle demonstrated, under the right circumstances, they can go together as deliciously as peanut butter and chocolate. Following the adventures of troubled teen Andrew (Dane DeHaan), his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and their school acquaintance Steve (Michael B. Jordan) after they discover an unknown object that leaves them with telekinetic powers, the Josh Trank-directed drama imagines the giddy thrill that might come from developing adolescent superhuman abilities — as well as the struggle to come to terms with the responsibility all those cool new gifts entail. Of course, that’s a struggle familiar to anyone who’s ever read early Spider-Man, but Max Landis’ screenplay delves a bit deeper into the darkness — and the cast imbues his characters with easily relatable anguish. “It’s a testament to Trank’s capable direction that the movie feels so grounded in reality,” wrote USA Today’s Claudia Puig. “There is no sense of the magical in the goings-on, even though what the boys are doing defies logic and gravity.”



Hyped with a fairly brilliant “viral” ad campaign that made it seem like producer J.J. Abrams was brewing up some truly next-level cinema, Cloverfield couldn’t help but disappoint a little when it stomped into theaters in 2008 and filmgoers realized it was really just a monster movie with a(n occasionally nauseating) found-footage twist. Still, taken on its own terms, this is a better-than-average entry in this week’s subgenre, boasting some energetic work from director Matt Reeves and a solid script from Drew Goddard. Basically, if you’re going to watch one movie about a monster running amok in New York City while handicam-toting twentysomethings try to make sense of the destruction, this is the one to choose. “There’s nothing to Cloverfield, really, but stripped-down chaos shot in a faux-verite Blair Witch Project fashion,” shrugged the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, who then admitted, “But I have to say, I was with it.”

End of Watch


Most critics — and more than a few filmgoers — would agree that the found-footage gimmick has been more than played out since rising to prominence with The Blair Witch Project in the late 1990s. Still, it’s a powerful tool when used in the right way, as demonstrated by writer/director David Ayer’s End of Watch, which follows a cop/film student (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his partner (Michael Pena) on patrol in the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. While Ayer’s use of the found footage technique proved divisive among critics, End of Watch earned a healthy $51 million at the box office, picked up a pair of Independent Spirit Award nominations, and enjoyed the respect of scribes such as Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote, “The best scenes are filmed inside the cruiser, dashboard shots that face inward instead of out, catching Gyllenhaal and Peña in moments so playful and true they make all other buddy cops look bogus by comparison.”

Europa Report


Having apparently never seen the end of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, a group of astronauts (played by Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist) board a deep space flight to Jupiter’s moon Europa, intent on probing the surface to try and find forms of life. The result is director Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report, sort of a more intelligent cousin to the disastrous Apollo 18; rather than cheap scares and ill-conceived characters, Report tries to wring real human drama out of a dangerous situation that slowly goes from hopeful to horrifying — and, to many critics’ immense satisfaction, also grounds its story in intelligent dialogue that at least sounds like the kind of stuff scientists might say. “Finally,” crowed Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News. “A found-footage thriller that merits, and expands on, this irrationally popular format.”

Lake Mungo


An eminently creepy low-budget ghost story barbed with scary videotapes, cell phone footage, and mockumentary interviews, Lake Mungo took the spirit of unsettling real-life documentaries like Capturing the Friedmans and used it as the chilling springboard for a grueling question: how do families carry on after the death of a loved one? In most cases, one hopes the answer includes fewer moments of blood-curdling horror than Mungo, but that undercurrent of real-world sadness helps anchor the fear with genuine poignancy. Calling it “a sophisticated, adult tale that blends complex, compelling emotions with reflexive commentary on film as a ‘medium’ of memory, manipulation and magic,” Little White Lies’ Anton Bitel deemed it “a classic supernatural enigma, once seen never forgotten.”

Paranormal Activity


For a lot of found footage horror movies, the device is used largely as a narrative and/or editing gimmick in order to obfuscate details and amp up jump scares. But with 2009’s Paranormal Activity, director Oren Peli rocked it Blair Witch style, using the characters’ handheld cameras to slowly ratchet up an overall feeling of dread that finally yields to a payoff rendered all the more haunting by its refusal to rely on gore or over-the-top special effects. Your mileage may vary with the growing list of Paranormal spinoffs and sequels, but the original is as simple as it is effective. “It illustrates one of my favorite points, that silence and waiting can be more entertaining than frantic fast-cutting and berserk f/x,” wrote an appreciative Roger Ebert. “For extended periods here, nothing at all is happening, and believe me, you won’t be bored.”



You’ve no doubt noticed that quite a few of the movies on our list have fallen under the horror umbrella, but precious few are as lethally effective as [Rec], the 2007 sensation helmed by Spanish writer-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. Plunging viewers into the nightmarish hellscape of an apartment complex that might be ground zero for a quickly spreading virus that turns its hosts into homicidal savages, it proved that no matter how played out found footage might have seemed even then, it could still be used as an effective delivery mechanism for sparse, economic horror. The inevitable sequels fell victim to the laws of diminishing returns, but the original remains a classic of the genre; as Jason Morgan put it for, “Not since John Carpenter’s one-shot intro to Halloween has POV horror been this good.”



Found footage is so pervasive these days that it’s spread all the way to Norway, where director André Øvredal used it for his international cult hit Trollhunter. One of those movies whose plot is rather brilliantly summed up in its title, it follows the occasionally scary, often hilarious adventures of a group of college students whose pursuit of a suspected bear poacher takes a surprising turn when they discover that he’s actually after a much, much bigger quarry. With uniformly strong performances and more of a cinematic aesthetic than your average found-footage film, Trollhunter elicited applause from the majority of critics, including the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, who called it “An enjoyably off-kilter hybrid of The Blair Witch Project and Where the Wild Things Are.” There’s a presumably bigger-budget Hollywood remake in the works, but you don’t need to wait for that; the original is streaming via Netflix right now.

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out Earth to Echo.

Tag Cloud

Super Bowl satire king kong Ghostbusters child's play dragons superman ABC Family olympics Spike TIFF Apple TV+ Nominations 2020 Creative Arts Emmys ABC Signature remakes CW Seed kids politics comiccon Calendar biopic Ellie Kemper Universal comic books versus award winner History FXX nfl Spectrum Originals nbcuniversal period drama Western Lifetime Christmas movies chucky golden globe awards book The Walt Disney Company boxing Interview VOD binge Action spider-verse USA biography Instagram Live franchise zombies National Geographic Star Wars worst movies Tarantino TV movies cults TV 4/20 Lifetime Comic-Con@Home 2021 art house Toys LGBT Classic Film Superheroes singing competition french jamie lee curtis Paramount Plus classics See It Skip It docudrama Alien Country 2016 Mystery AMC dramedy Musicals WGN adenture scary Cosplay historical drama revenge miniseries south america Dark Horse Comics renewed TV shows Superheroe YA composers festivals Turner Classic Movies Summer hollywood BBC America Britbox Pet Sematary basketball E3 concert Comedy pirates of the caribbean Family venice Women's History Month YouTube heist movie canceled TV shows stoner 2015 twilight trophy cars Year in Review popular Amazon Prime Video Adult Swim young adult 73rd Emmy Awards true crime Shondaland festival SDCC TCA Winter 2020 crime natural history batman scary movies 2017 telelvision new zealand hist spy thriller japanese 21st Century Fox adaptation Disney+ Disney Plus BET directors technology Sneak Peek based on movie harry potter Biopics theme song live action Election WarnerMedia Mary Poppins Returns Crunchyroll Brie Larson Film Festival new star wars movies Logo news cats cooking TCM 2019 animated psycho Apple Trophy Talk FX on Hulu Best and Worst Masterpiece Image Comics mission: impossible ESPN Hulu game of thrones casting toronto Mary Tyler Moore TV One saw Musical dexter romance Peacock American Society of Cinematographers stop motion TruTV Infographic science fiction E! Funimation cancelled TV shows slasher 72 Emmy Awards universal monsters Mary poppins 93rd Oscars sequel Arrowverse Tokyo Olympics archives Prime Video richard e. Grant Travel Channel Lucasfilm CBS TCA Elton John NYCC feel good reboot Opinion crossover werewolf strong female leads ITV 99% Paramount Network thriller Crackle Black History Month all-time streaming Sci-Fi RT21 Extras BBC Oscars critic resources Awards Tour A24 Academy Awards comics Spring TV canceled asian-american teaser rt archives independent TNT justice league aliens GIFs japan legend MCU Baby Yoda Television Academy jurassic park free movies doctor who Heroines DC Universe Hallmark Fox News Music Warner Bros. BAFTA Thanksgiving X-Men ratings spanish language war video Television Critics Association marvel cinematic universe Rock cartoon unscripted CNN Avengers stand-up comedy 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Showtime 24 frames hispanic heritage month cancelled PaleyFest deadpool Quiz 20th Century Fox Endgame ABC President LGBTQ razzies godzilla documentaries black comedy comic book movie ViacomCBS social media Comics on TV halloween tv Hollywood Foreign Press Association Tags: Comedy Awards Polls and Games international spinoff adventure Drama talk show scene in color documentary Trailer Fox Searchlight sports Winners Fall TV IFC Netflix Teen The Walking Dead Tumblr crime drama A&E Schedule San Diego Comic-Con blockbuster HBO Emmys HBO Go quibi Grammys Neflix marvel comics Stephen King DC Comics Black Mirror USA Network rotten 1990s nature hispanic Winter TV GLAAD Fantasy space 2018 sequels obituary Character Guide Freeform TV Land fast and furious Marvel Television Broadway serial killer AMC Plus PlayStation new york Martial Arts Amazon Prime dreamworks tv talk foreign IFC Films Cartoon Network 79th Golden Globes Awards witnail target boxoffice spanish fresh zero dark thirty Nat Geo Tubi FOX docuseries SXSW SundanceTV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt diversity cops anime transformers monster movies Watching Series Esquire Pop Anna Paquin GoT Pride Month Mindy Kaling christmas movies HFPA IMDb TV laika Trivia VICE CBS All Access NBC high school comic book movies Rocky disaster Reality Legendary supernatural vampires Shudder Video Games TCA 2017 MTV NBA Pirates political drama Horror lord of the rings Rom-Com Apple TV Plus Holiday joker live event dceu television Wes Anderson latino 71st Emmy Awards Mudbound Chernobyl movies VH1 rt labs critics edition mob rotten movies we love indie The Arrangement Walt Disney Pictures police drama Cannes book adaptation cancelled television spain worst 2021 emmy awards genre james bond Universal Pictures Star Trek name the review Pop TV Podcast First Reviews critics 90s ghosts reviews gangster green book Emmy Nominations Starz Food Network Hear Us Out children's TV 007 what to watch comedies mutant Tomatazos screen actors guild video on demand facebook The Witch Writers Guild of America discovery Netflix Christmas movies italian OWN golden globes Epix posters TLC sitcom streaming movies sag awards indiana jones Box Office die hard Countdown Comedy Central Set visit CMT Rocketman El Rey Christmas king arthur cinemax TCA Awards Pixar Captain marvel Binge Guide DGA Amazon Certified Fresh Ovation The CW TV renewals aapi Holidays Photos Exclusive Video blockbusters dogs hidden camera crime thriller FX Columbia Pictures debate travel PBS Valentine's Day Paramount DC streaming service criterion a nightmare on elm street Kids & Family Discovery Channel BET Awards toy story MSNBC Disney Plus royal family black rt labs game show YouTube Premium blaxploitation superhero sopranos wonder woman women screenings know your critic vs. psychological thriller HBO Max best mcc mockumentary Red Carpet dc Marathons robots APB Marvel Comic Book rom-coms Disney finale Animation elevated horror Film OneApp slashers Disney streaming service Turner Nickelodeon YouTube Red movie Sundance TV Syfy spider-man parents Premiere Dates New York Comic Con football BBC One First Look Bravo Lionsgate trailers Sundance Now series dark Hallmark Christmas movies suspense Chilling Adventures of Sabrina action-comedy The Academy Reality Competition comic prank TBS kong DirecTV Marvel Studios Song of Ice and Fire Vudu 45 Sony Pictures Pacific Islander halloween ID breaking bad medical drama australia Amazon Studios anthology Disney Channel leaderboard The Purge Acorn TV RT History cancelled TV series scorecard Sundance zombie romantic comedy Fargo kaiju films