9 Found Footage Films

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  28 Aug 2015 

It took a surprisingly long time for it to happen, but with 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.

genres
9 The Bay
imdb
rating

5.6

The Bay (2012)

Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

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.”

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Two million fish washed ashore. One thousand blackbirds dropped from the sky. On July 4, 2009 a deadly menace swept through the quaint seaside town of Claridge, Maryland, but the harrowing story of what happened that Independence Day has never been told—until now. The authorities believed they had buried the truth about the tragedy that claimed over 700 human lives. Now, three years later, a reporter has emerged with footage revealing the cover-up and an unimaginable killer: a mysterious parasitic outbreak. Told from the perspective of those who were there and saw what happened, The Bay unfolds over 24 hours through people's iPhones, Androids, 911 calls, webcams, and whatever else could be used to document the nightmare in Claridge. What follows is a nerve-shredding tale of a small town plunged into absolute terror.

actors:
Kristen Connolly as Stephanie   Will Rogers as Alex   Michael Beasley as Officer Jimson   Christopher Denham as Sam   Kenny Alfonso as Doctor Michaels   Kether Donohue as Donna Thompson   Jane McNeill as Victim #1   Anthony Reynolds as Steve Slattery - Homeland Security Officer   Frank Deal as Mayor Stockman   Kimberly Campbell as Nurse Rebecca   Lamya Jezek as Ms. Rosenblatt  

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8 The Blair Witch Project
imdb
rating

6.4

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Horror, Mystery

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.”

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In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.

actors:
Heather Donahue as Heather Donahue   Joshua Leonard as Joshua 'Josh' Leonard   Michael C. Williams as Michael 'Mike' Williams   Bob Griffith as Short Fisherman   Jim King as Interviewee   Sandra Sánchez as Waitress (as Sandra Sanchez)   Ed Swanson as Fisherman With Glasses   Patricia DeCou as Mary Brown   Mark Mason as Man in Yellow Hat   Jackie Hallex as Interviewee with Child  

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7 Chronicle
imdb
rating

7.1

Chronicle (2012)

Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller

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.”

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Three high school students make an incredible discovery, leading to their developing uncanny powers beyond their understanding. As they learn to control their abilities and use them to their advantage, their lives start to spin out of control, and their darker sides begin to take over.

actors:
Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer   Alex Russell as Matt Garetty   Michael B. Jordan as actor   Michael Kelly as Richard Detmer   Michael B. Jordan as Steve Montgomery   Anna Wood as Monica   Ashley Hinshaw as Casey Letter   Joe Vaz as Michael Ernesto   Luke Tyler as Sean   Matthew Dylan Roberts as Ernesto's Neighbour  

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6 Cloverfield
imdb
rating

7.1

Cloverfield (2008)

Action, Science Fiction, Thriller

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.”

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Five young New Yorkers throw their friend a going-away party the night that a monster the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city. Told from the point of view of their video camera, the film is a document of their attempt to survive the most surreal, horrifying event of their lives.

actors:
Lizzy Caplan as Marlena   Jessica Lucas as Lily   Odette Annable as Beth   Michael Stahl-David as Rob   Mike Vogel as Jason   T.J. Miller as Hud   Anjul Nigam as Kassierer   Margot Farley as Jenn   Theo Rossi as Antonio   Brian Klugman as Charlie   Kelvin Yu as Clark   Liza Lapira as Heather   Lili Mirojnick as Lei   Ben Feldman as Travis   Elena Caruso as Party Goer   Vakisha Coleman as Party Goer   Will Greenberg as Party Goer   Rob Kerkovich as Party Goer   Ryan Key as Party Goer   Hooman Khalili as Party Goer   Rasika Mathur as Party Goer   Baron Vaughn as Party Goer   Charlyne Yi as Party Goer   Roma Torre as Herself   Rick Overton as Frantic Man   Martin Cohen as Burly Guy   Jason Cerbone as Police Officer   Pasha D. Lychnikoff as Russian Man on Street   Billy Brown as Staff Sgt. Pryce   Scott Lawrence as Lead Soldier   Jeffrey De Serrano as Soldier   Tim Griffin as Command Center Officer   Chris Mulkey as Lt. Col. Graff   Susse Budde as Medic   Jason Lombard as Second Medic   Jamie Martz as Helicopter Pilot   Don Abernathy as New York Street Pedestrian (uncredited)   Michael Ark as Party Goer (uncredited)   Caley Bisson as Party Bartender (uncredited)   James Thomas Bligh as EMS Commander (uncredited)   Maylen Calienes as Frantic Girl on Bridge (uncredited)   Craig Dabbs as Army Sgt. First Class (uncredited)   Tommy Gerrits as Boy Looking at Magazines (uncredited)   Jason Giffin as National Guardsman / Tank Gunner (uncredited)   Adam Greeves as Military Personnel (uncredited)   Brandon G. Holley as Military Personnel (uncredited)   Hisonni Johnson as Party Goer (uncredited)   Adam Karst as New Yorker (uncredited)   Julio Leal as Rocketeer / Soldier (uncredited)   Jake McLaughlin as Helicopter Pilot (voice) (uncredited)   Rachel Mower as Injured Girl (uncredited)   Gene Richards as First Man Coughing (uncredited)   Bertrand Roberson Jr. as Military Personnel (uncredited)   John Robert as Injured Guy on Bridge (uncredited)   Chris Spinelli as Party Goer (uncredited)   Andrew Trujillo as Military Personel (uncredited)   Maria Zambrana as Brooklyn Bridge Victim (uncredited)  

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5 End of Watch
imdb
rating

7.7

End of Watch (2012)

Crime, Drama, Thriller

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.”

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Shot documentary-style, this film follows the daily grind of two young police officers in LA who are partners and friends, and what happens when they meet criminal forces greater than themselves.

actors:
Jake Gyllenhaal as Brian Taylor   Michael Peña as Mike Zavala   Natalie Martinez as Gabby   Anna Kendrick as Janet   David Harbour as Van Hauser   Frank Grillo as Sarge   America Ferrera as Officer Orozco   Cody Horn as Officer Davis   Shondrella Avery as Bonita   Hugh Daly as Homicide Detective 2   Gene Hong as Officer Cho   Cle Shaheed Sloan as Mr. Tre   Jaime Fitzsimmons as Captain Reese   Everton Lawrence as DJ   Zone as Too Tall   Alvin Norman as Peanut   Richard Cabral as Demon   Diamonique as Wicked   Maurice Compte as Big Evil   Flakiss as La La   Manny Jimenez Jr. as Casper   Nikki Nicholle Barreras as Cindy   Kristy Wu as Sook   Candace Smith as Sharice   Corina Calderon as Jazmine   David Fernandez Jr. as Spooky   McKinley Freeman as Williams  

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4 Europa Report
imdb
rating

6.5

Europa Report (2013)

Science Fiction, Thriller

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.”

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A crew of international astronauts are sent on a private mission to Jupiter's fourth moon.

actors:
Sharlto Copley as James Corrigan   Daniel Wu as William Xu   Michael Nyqvist as Andrei Blok   Christian Camargo as Dr. Daniel Luxembourg   Karolina Wydra as Dr. Katya Petrovna   Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque   Embeth Davidtz as Dr. Samantha Unger  

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3 Lake Mungo
imdb
rating

6.1

Lake Mungo (2008)

Horror, Thriller

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.”

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16 year old Alice Palmer drowns in a local dam. When her body is recovered and, her grieving family buries her. The family experiences a series of strange, inexplicable events centered in and around their home. Unsettled, the Palmers seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist, Ray Kemeny. Ray discovers that Alice led a secret, double life. At Lake Mungo, Alice's secret past emerges.

actors:
Talia Zucker as Alice Palmer   Rosie Traynor as June Palmer   David Pledger as Russell Palmer   Martin Sharpe as Mathew Palmer   Steve Jodrell as Ray Kemeny   Tamara Donnellan as Marissa Toohey   Scott Terrill as Brett Toohey  

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2 Paranormal Activity
imdb
rating

6.3

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Horror, Mystery

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.”

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After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.

actors:
Katie Featherston as Katie   Micah Sloat as Micah   Mark Fredrichs as The Psychic   Amber Armstrong as Amber   Ashley Palmer as Diane  

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1 [REC]
imdb
rating

7.5

[REC] (2007)

Horror, Mystery

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 Filmcritic.com, “Not since John Carpenter’s one-shot intro to Halloween has POV horror been this good.”

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A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.

actors:
Manuela Velasco as Ángela Vidal   Ferran Terraza as Manu   Martha Carbonell as Conchita Izquierdo   David Vert as Alex   Carlos Lasarte as César   Pablo Rosso as Marcos   Vicente Gil as Polizist   Carlos Vicente as Guillem   Jorge Yamam as Sergio  

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