And Now For Something Completely Different: My Top Spooky Found Footage Films For Quarantine
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Like most people right now, I’m under quarantine and spending a lot of time at home. I’m trying to be productive with my time when I can, but it’s not realistic to expect myself to complete all my goals and projects when the world feels like it’s falling apart. It’s a weird time.
So, like many people, I’ve been engaging in escapism – that is, books, movies, podcasts, and television. Lately, for some reason, the gritty plausibility of a well-done, found-footage horror movie has been really appealing to me. Something about externalizing my anxiety in a controlled way, maybe? Anyways, if you’re like me and want to feel fear about fictional scenarios instead of the apocalyptic hell-scape of reality, here are some movies you might enjoy:
1. The Blair Witch Project
I’m starting with the classic to get it out of the way, but it’s a pop-culture icon for a reason. I watched The Blair Witch Project for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen. My best friend and I sat in my dad’s basement and watched his VHS copy in the dark. She slept over that night and insisted on sleeping in my twin-sized bed with me – a top bunk no less – because we were both so scared. In the morning, we got up and watched the movie again, and we spent that summer trying to make our own version of the film in the little bluff of trees behind her house.
A brief synopsis for anybody who has been living under a rock for the last twenty-ish years: The movie is about three student-filmmakers who go into the Forest in the Black Hills of Maryland to film a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local legend. The group soon becomes lost and things just escalate from there.
I’ve watched the film again as an adult, and I still think it holds up to current horror movies extremely well. The movie was notorious for it’s online marketing campaign that had many people questioning whether the film was a real documentary. I didn’t know about any of that until long after I’d first seen it, and even without that experiential aspect that affected many of its original spectators, the film has an undeniable element of realism. The characters don’t look like stereotypical actors, and the chemistry between them is totally believable. The filmmakers are somehow able to make the forest setting feel both overwhelmingly vast, and horribly claustrophobic as the crew wanders in circles and tensions flare. I know it’s not an original choice, but if you’ve been put off by the clichéd reputation of this movie, just remember that this was really the first film of its kind that invented a lot of those conventions that now seem overdone. It seems simple with the kind of visual effects we see in the big blockbusters today, but I’m a total ride-or-die for TBWP.
Available on: Itunes; Prime with Starz extension
2. The Fourth Kind
This movie scared the absolute living daylights out of me in the ninth grade. Seriously, like, made me I-made-my-mom-crawl-into-bed-with-me-that-night-and-several-nights-afterward kind of terrified. I woke up consistently at 3:30 am for weeks, and honestly, thinking too much about this movie around that time of night still freaks me right out.
The film is about a psychologist in Nome, Alaska who discovers that several of her patients are revealing the same disturbing memories of abduction under hypnosis. I really don’t want to give too much about this movie away because I think that the less you know about these kinds of films, the wilder the viewing journey becomes.
The gimmick of this movie is really cool. There is both a found-footage aspect, and a recreation aspect that combine to create a really compelling “proof” for the reality of this story. Basically, there are two sets of actors – one set that performs in the grainy, camcorder “real” footage, and a more well known, celebrity lead cast that recreates the “real footage”. Sometimes the same scene is filmed twice and placed side-by-side for a split-screen viewing experience that makes the disturbing content it depicts seem totally legitimate. It is 100% a studio-made, fictional movie, but I definitely looked it up just to make sure after I first watched it. This is one of those movies that scares me so badly that I have only re-watched it once. I know it won’t affect everyone the same way that it does me, but I still think that the premise and execution are inventive and worth checking out.
Available on: Itunes; Youtube Rentals
3. Hell House LLC
I just watched this movie recently and was very pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of its simplicity and character building. It follows a group of friends, and coworkers, who run a haunted house attraction together. They have moved their operation to an abandoned hotel in the town of Abaddon, just outside of New York City. As they begin setting up for their haunt, and sleeping in the building, strange things start happening.
This is a film I watched with no prior planning or knowledge. I was in the mood for something spooky, saw it had a decent rating on Shudder, and decided to give it a try. It impressed me with the uncomplicated nature of its scares. The setting of the haunted house, complete with lots of kitchy props, makes the hotel feel both silly and threatening, and there is a definite heaviness to the atmosphere in the dark, twisting labyrinth of claustrophobic rooms and hallways. The narrative threads of the story aren’t always super clear, but there is still a very grounded vibe in the performances, and a believability to the relationships that exist between the main five characters. Plus, there are two other movies in this trilogy (which I have not seen yet), so if you like this one, there’s more for you to binge!
Available on: Shudder
4. As Above, So Below
As Above, So Below appeals to me a lot thematically. My first dream as a little kid was to be an archeologist, and I spent years reading all about different mythologies, and ancient societies. This movie is pretty much The Blair Witch Project meets Indiana Jones, so it is right up my alley.
The story follows a young archeologist, Scarlett, who is desperately trying to complete the life’s work of her father: to find the Philosopher’s Stone. Her journey takes her down into the catacombs of Paris with a ragtag group of urban explorers, her personal documentarian, and her translator.
This film has all the trappings of an adventure movie: clues hidden on historical artifacts; a cool, Laura Croft-esque protagonist, and globe-trotting to treasure-hunt through multiple international locals. There are also plenty of scares. Pretty much right from the start, the expedition does not go as planned. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that this film does a good job of raising the stakes early on. The writers also walk on the right side of the line when it comes to exposition. There was obviously some research done in this process, and the script allows the actors to relay enough background information for the context of everything to make sense, but not so much that it’s easily flagged as exposition for exposition’s sake. The characters feel fully formed without shoe-horning in too much backstory as well. Personal relationships are implied and seem genuine, but there are lots of details left up to interpretation. There are a few elements that seem a little silly, but this movie is so much fun that I will forgive a lot of that. Plus, they actually filmed in the Paris catacombs, so that’s pretty neat!
Available on: Netflix
5. Lake Mungo
This is a movie that I heard a lot about, knew I would like, but put off watching for a long time. I actually watched it for the first time while I was putting this list together, knowing that I would probably want to include it. I was right, I really enjoyed it, but I was also correct in my suspicion that this film would bother me a lot.
Lake Mungo is definitely a slow burn. It is structured as a mockumentary that follows a family in the wake of a tragic accident, and explores the grief they feel over the loss of their oldest child, Alice – who drowned while out swimming with friends. Like some of the other movies on this list, I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot because there are a lot of twists and turns. At its core, however, this movie is a disturbing meditation on mortality, focused on the desire to hold on to a lost loved-one; to see them one more time.
There have been a lot of great videos made on Youtube about this movie recently, and it has had a resurgence in popular culture because of that (I definitely recommend watching Ryan Hollinger’s video essay on this film –spoiler warning though!). It is a low-budget Australian movie that did not receive a lot of attention when it came out. I think the only way you can watch a physical copy of this film is in one of those cheap horror box-sets that includes, like, four or five cheesy popcorn flicks. This is also not a movie to watch for huge effects or bombastic scares. The real special element about this film is its subtlety, and its deep emotional core.
Available on: Youtube
6. Grave Encounters
This is one of the cheesier, campier movies on this list. It follows a group of television personalities who produce a ghost-hunting network show: Grave Encounters. The movie consists of the footage they film while conducting an investigation in a haunted mental hospital.
What is really fun about this movie is its tongue-in-cheek approach to the ghost-hunter premise. It is definitely poking fun at real shows like Ghost Adventures that have a particular style to their content. This movie does not belabour itself too much with the interpersonal relationships between its characters. They are coworkers who are collaborating on a project, not best friends with lots of backstory. They are also all kind of jerks, especially when they interact with each other. The best character moments, in my opinion, happen when they are alone.
I am forever saying this, but again, I do not want to give too much away about the main twist in this movie. The premise of the scare is super creepy, although a lot of the effects are pretty cartoony and CGI-heavy. The last 10-15 minutes are also quite scary and well executed so it definitely ends on a high. There is a lot to poke fun at in this movie, and it doesn’t take itself super seriously so it’s definitely a good one to watch with friends for some silly, spooky fun.
Available on: Youtube
7. Creep and Creep 2
These two movies have got to be some of the coolest found-footage films of all time. I wasn’t sure whether to include both of these in the same listing, or give each one their own entry because they definitely stand equally well on their own or together.
Without spoiling anything, although I’m sure most audiences can guess where these films are going to an extent, they both follow the same subject as he is studied by two different documentarians. Stuff gets weird.
As character studies, these films are both really interesting. Mark Duplass is able to portray a person that seems consistent in his internal logic while also being unpredictable in a way that is really fascinating, and quite effective in building tension throughout these movies. The dialogue and chemistry between the actors is the high-point in both of these films, and I feel like I notice something new every time I watch them. Plus, I hear there may be a Creep 3 in the works, which would be amazing!
Available on: Netflix
8. Digging Up the Marrow
Probably my favourite show of all time is Twin Peaks. It had a huge impact on my love of all things horror, film, and David Lynch. It has it’s fair share of hokey moments and bad writing, but when it’s good, it is a masterful blend of humour, surrealism, and lovable characters. Ray Wise as Leland Palmer is such an iconic part of that show, and I will watch pretty much anything he is in. That is how I first ended up finding and watching Digging Up the Marrow.
The story follows filmmaker, Adam Green (played by real life Adam Green), who begins making a documentary on horror art featuring monsters. In the process, he meets retired cop, Ted Dekker (RAY WISE!), who insists upon the existence of real monsters that live in an underground lair called “the marrow”.
My favourite premises for found-footage movies are often mockumentary-style stories that start in one place and then take a sharp left turn. Like in life, projects often don’t take shape the way that their creators imagine or intend. I find that to be a realistic argument for the twists and turns in this movie.
The more I read about the process of creating this film, the more interesting it becomes. Apparently a lot of the lines are improvised, people didn’t have access to a full script; Adam Green, who is also the real life filmmaker, told people that he was making an art documentary. Wild stuff.
Available on: Shudder
So there you have it: my top picks for 8 binge-worthy found-footage films to watch during quarantine. In closing, I think what makes found-footage special as a genre is that the best examples within it are often created by people with few resources, but compelling ideas. As a creative person, that really appeals to me. Found-footage films are often underdog projects by creators that I can root for. Full disclosure, I have not seen every found-footage movie ever, and there are also lots of found-footage films that I like that didn’t make this list. Honourable mention shout outs to Rec, Cloverfield, and the O.G. Paranormal Activity. Hopefully if you’re a horror-nut like me, there is something in here that interests you and can distract you a little from the flaming garbage fire of reality right now. If you have a favourite that I missed, feel free to let me know!