The age has come when the infamous shaky-cam-asaurus and his brother, the dim witted found-footage-rex, need to become extinct. Many readers might fondly remember the originals; The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activities and how they chilled and thrilled, but the films today are hardly making the cut.
WARNING: Contains spoilers
All These Miserable Excuses Hurt My Brain
The first thing that comes to mind is how lame and repetitive the excuses are getting about why these doomed people are carrying around video cameras. In The Blair Witch Project; it was a documentary being filmed by students, in Paranormal Activity; a woman wanted to know what was going bump in the night, in Cloverfield; some poor saps just wanted to film the monster from beneath the waves. It was easy to suspend our disbelief for the earlier movies and the reasons behind their filming. Now, the excuses are running thin and are worthy only of our barely suppressed cringes.
Take Paranormal Activity 5: The Marked Ones. Why did the main character get a camera? His friend had one. That’s it. He goes into a pawn shop, which happens to have a nice cheap one and the movie kicks off. Most film protagonists are now inspired to buy cameras because of a single event. This includes Paranormal Activity 2; the father buys a closed circuit security system because of one “burglary” and Paranormal Activity 3; when the father notices weird stuff happened around his house and installs several cameras to capture the supernatural.
Other times, the people just happen to have a video camera and decide to carry it along with them every day and film everything, no rhyme or reason. This includes the new Devil’s Due, in which a man is videotaping his wedding, then honeymoon, then everything else because he’s bored. Maybe.
Most often, the movie falls back on the original reason; a documentary/film. Grave Encounters follows a production crew that makes a ghost hunting series and the second Grave Encounters is (wow, what a concept!) about a film student doing a documentary on the first Grave Encounters. Then there’s Atrocious, which is about two friends who make a web series about paranormal legends, REC is set up as a TV news feature, and Afflicted is another one about friends making a web series that wind up in trouble.
It’s never really addressed how all these families and students are able to afford so much film equipment and travel expenses (looking at you especially, Grave Encounters 2). The TV production crews and reporters are more believable but the excuses are still getting a bit stale.
Contrived Camera Angles
You know when a character places their camera on the ground or another flat surface while they go do something that you are in for a scare. Devil’s Due was particularly bad for this, whether it was a camera conveniently left on in a purse to film a satanic ritual or a camera being left on a table to observe the baby’s little “activities”. It was all very subpar. At that point, if you really need that many camera angles to make your movie scarier, perhaps you should just stick with the regular style of filming.
Drop the Camera and Run, You Idiot!
Darwin is pretty specific when it comes to the laws of who will survive and who won’t. Horror movies ask a lot from viewers when it comes to suspending disbelief when it comes to characters refusing to leave their haunted house due to financial reasons or constantly splitting up to search the mental ward, but what about common sense? Looking past all the flimsy and oft regurgitated excuses for main characters to have cameras and closed circuit systems, it’s hard to swallow their extreme idiocy.
When a bloodthirsty demon or murderous ghost is chasing you, would you hold onto bulky equipment that’s slowing you down? No, no you wouldn’t. You would drop it like it’s hot and get right on out of there. Unfortunately, the people in found footage films are a little less practical. They’ll cling to the cameras, conveniently pointing them at their faces for reactions shots or behind them for flashes of scary entities (further stretching our suspension of disbelief), but refusing to just let go. It’s even more frustrating when the camera gets dropped and the person scrambles for it as the director’s way of adding tension to the film but really, it just makes one wish the character would get eaten.
Why Are You Still Filming? People Are Dying!
Inevitably, a character will demand why another is still filming, usually about halfway through the movie. Some of their companions will have died, they will have been chased, attacked, and frightened and one sorry sack is still filming, as if they lack one single shred of human decency and, more importantly, common sense. The usual excuse is that the person filming wants to make sure the horror is being documented so that “everyone will know the truth.”
Then, of course, it will usually come down to the last survivor who (guess what!?) is still filming and vomiting out a monologue for the camera. In Paranormal Activities 4, the main character continues to film after everything has hit the fan. Rather than turning and running like any sane person would do when something comes out of the darkness at her, she keeps the camera filming and pointing at the demon. Of course, in Paranormal Activities 5, one guy keeps his camera with him even as all his friends are slaughtered; he’s being surrounded by witches, and is sucked through a demon door to another time. In Grave Encounters 2, a guy is grabbed by some vengeful demon and his friend helps him get away, all the while still holding the camera and filming!
If You Can’t Do It, Stop Trying!
The first few found footage films were simple and straight forward and the characters usually only had one camera. Of course, this imposes some limitations on the film itself since the director can’t use certain shots or angles without it seeming ridiculous. Now found footage films are trying to get around this by allowing the faceless people who “find” these films access to things they should not have access to. This could include security camera footage of parking lots and store fronts, police tapes of suspect confessionals (as seen in Paranormal Activities 5), which begs the question; why didn’t they just make it into a regular movie? Devil’s Due even has an evil cult that breaks into the house and installs cameras at every angle to ensure proper documentation of the suspense.
Found footage films were interesting and unique when they first started appearing in theaters, one could almost believe that they really were based on true events but now, it’s time to give up the ghost, so to speak. When the premise of your film is the same as all the rest, and your characters seem rather stupid and foolish, and your audience can guess when the jump scare is coming because the character puts the camera down, it’s time to move on.