While Devil’s Due was a letdown, I was caught off guard by the reviews. Not that I expected favorable reviews, but a lot of them focused on how tired they are of the found footage sub genre. How found footage is just a gimmick. I actually felt bad for Devil’s Due. Radio Silence put in a lot of effort to make the camera use plausible, so why are we focusing on the one aspect of the film that wasn’t broken? Why are the critics focusing their ire toward an entire sub genre solely on one film instead of breaking down what really didn’t work with it? Oh, like perhaps a complete lack of emotional attachment to the two leads we’re meant to sympathize with? With no scares and no attachment to the story it was difficult to stay invested in Devil’s Due. Grumblings about how bored everyone is of found footage isn’t new, but for me at least, it was new to find an editorial masquerading as an honest review.
It got me thinking. As with all genres, when a film unexpectedly strikes a strong chord with audiences you’ll find studios scrambling to recapture that magic. You see trends come and go; when the current movement fizzles at the box office the next shiny new thing ushers in a new trend. Repeat. It seems to be more recognizable in horror. Asian horror, torture porn, slashers, etc. They all have spent time in the spotlight until mainstream audiences get overexposed and then step back for the next sub genre. But here’s the thing: they don’t go away. Just because the box office tired of the Saw franchise doesn’t mean that similar films ceased being made.
So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t blame an entire genre or sub-genre for being the current fad. They were likely around before and will still be long after Hollywood forgets their existence. Blair Witch wasn’t the first Found Footage film; you can give that credit to Cannibal Holocaust in 1980. Yup. Nearly 20 years before Blair Witch made Found Footage a household name it’d been done numerous times before. And when people groan and whine at the trailers for Paranormal Activity sequel # 6, rest assured that there will still be more to come. Really, if the idea of watching a found footage film bothers you that much…then don’t go. Simple. There’s no clearer message to studios than that.
But for me, I’m not tired of them. I know I’m not alone in this. Found Footage still works. Not always, but often. I think what studios are discovering, much to the dismay of critics and audiences, is that found footage is hard. It’s difficult to explain to audiences why that camera is still in hand when shit hits the fan and that character still hasn’t put it down. It’s difficult to keep things fresh for audiences, to set the film apart from its predecessors. But it’s still being done and done well.
I think when it comes to film and media, memory is extremely short. It was just last year that people went nuts over V/H/S/2. Guess what? That’s found footage. Europa Report currently holds a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Also found footage. The Bay in 2012? Also fresh at 77%. What about Chronicle, also released in 2012? 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s also critical darlings like [REC], Trollhunter, and Lake Mungo released in recent years. So, clearly found footage films isn’t a washed up sub-genre incapable of putting out great stuff. Are we basing the criticisms on a couple of bombs and a franchise that’s a bit tired?
Perhaps its technicalities. Maybe what Found Footage needs is a name change. More often lately, you’re watching a first person narrative, rather than found footage. I’ve read complaints about the lack of “finding footage.” So if we’re nitpicking, maybe this would put minds at ease. It’s a fine line, really.
Nothing gets you as deep into the experience as Found Footage. You’re right there with the characters, experiencing their journey as if you’re there. You see what they see, which amps up the atmosphere when that line of sight is limited. I commend filmmakers who can pull this genre off. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, and I sincerely hope people keep trying. There are innovative people out there still full of surprises, and I support you.