Tag Archive: Found footage


Unfriended-1The found footage sub-genre of horror is a very dry well. Despite two resurgences, marked by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, it has come to a point where the sub-genre is lacking in invention, with only entries outside of horror truly proving all that memorable (Chronicle). This time, however, it’s a little different. Technically, the scenario here isn’t even found footage, but is perhaps the inevitable evolution for found footage, as we witness the horror taking place on a laptop screen. While certainly a big push in terms of gimmickry, this action allows Unfriended to tap in to modern sensibilities in an unnerving and competent manner.

Taking place in Fresno, California, we witness the events over the laptop screen of teenager Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) as she engages in a wide Skype conversation with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) and their friends, Adam (Will Peltz), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Jess (Renee Olstead) and Val (Courtney Halverson). This particular night marks the first anniversary of the death of their classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who committed suicide after being the focus of aggressive cyber-bullying. Strange things start to occur during their video conversation, with the teens soon coming to realise that they are being haunted by the vengeful spirit of Laura, and she is none too merciful. Unfriended-2

Found footage is a sub-genre that I often try to keep up with, which is very hard because a lot of them truly do suck. It is not exactly a rewarding genre. But every now and again, one comes along which re-installs a little faith, and Unfriended marks one of the more successful and memorable examples of the style in quite some time.

Focusing entirely on the computer screen does limit its potential, but director Levan Gabriadze manages to craft a great deal of tension through pop ups and message alerts. What is the most successful element is the presentation of the Skype experience and the web surfing that occurs at the same time. Every detail is very convincing, as we get a very realistic portrayal of how young people occupy themselves on their laptops, with or without a supernatural stalker. It all adds up to ensure that the experience is as unsettling as possible.

The film also generates an unsettling tone through its exploration of the consequences of cyber-bullying, colouring the film as one which has something quite relevant to say about the youth of today, cyber communities and the type of people we wish ourselves, or allow ourselves to be, on-line. The on-line environment here aims to demonstrate how even close friends can know very little about each other, as well as highlighting the risks of posting certain things or Unfriended-3uploading certain documents on to the web. Once something is out there, it has the potential to come back, in destructive fashion. It just so happens that amongst these friends, the secrets are revealed by a wronged and vengeful ghost of a suicidal teen.

The cast of largely unknowns establish enough of a dynamic to convince, but most of the characters are fodder or designed to be unlike-able, so its hard to become that invested in any of them. In fact, you may find yourself rooting for the spirit of Laura Barns from time to time, considering she’s the one with the righteous cause and also seemingly quite a maliciously witty individual, if her foreboding messages to Blaire and her friends are anything to go by.

The scares and thrills themselves range from the unnerving to the clichéd, with the sound design going heavy on the bass when something bad is about to happen, a technique which was boring even by the time Paranormal Activity came around. The ending itself in particular demonstrates this rather uninspired approach to stagingUnfriended-4 frights. Yet, it is the mystery surrounding the supposed sins of these young people that keeps you engaged, as friendships unravel and certain people get their comeuppance when they refuse to play Laura’s game.

Unfriended deserves the benefit of the doubt, as it capable of being surprising while being a part of a sub-genre that has become a cliché in and of itself. Sure, this still indulges in a fair few clichés itself, but its attention to detail and its unnerving atmosphere allow for Unfriended to be a tense cinematic experience that is both a fun horror flick and an interesting look at the destructive potential of cyber-bullying. So, kids, play nice. You never know who’s on-line.

4/5- While clichéd, Unfriended is a well executed and unsettling horror capable of getting well under your skin.

Is it October already? Yes ladies and gentleman; the Autumn has arrived, and with Halloween on the horizon, surely it is time for another addition to a seemingly un-stoppable horror franchise. The Paranormal Activity franchise has proven to be a rather effective cash-cow since its first surprise hit outing way back when in 2007 (seeing general release in 2009). Since then, the franchise has become somewhat an annual tradition, and one that I am rather a fan of. The found footage genre is one that does interest me (as seen in my Shock Radar article), as I believe that it is a technique that is incredibly effective when done very well. The Paranormal Activity franchise is such a series of films; one that employs the technique to its full potential and ambitiously attempts to develop the technique. The sec0nd part was satisfying if somewhat un-innovative. But then the creative team behind Catfish (Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman)were bought on and hit it of the park with the 1980’s set Paranormal Activity 3. They generated great tension, injected with self-aware humor and interestingly developed the technique along with the mythology of the world of these movies. Joost and Schulman return once again for this fourth installment, at a time where many people are beginning to question the longevity of this franchise. How was PA4 match up? And does it still justify the franchises’ continuation?

The first true direct sequel of the franchise, PA4 picks up after PA2, which resulted in the possessed Katie (Katie Featherstone) murdering her sister’s family and kidnapping her young son Hunter. With their whereabouts still unknown, the film is told from the perspective of young Alex’s (Kathryn Newton) camcorder and laptop webcam(s), who begins to think that there is something weird about the woman and little boy who have just moved in across the street. A set of circumstances sees the little boy, Robbie, staying with Alex and her family, and sure enough strange things begin to occur. Alex, along with her sort-of boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), take it upon themselves to record what takes place within the house. But, as we well know, that sort of meddling doth not please those demon fellows.

Straight off the bat, I will say that PA4 is not as innovative as part three, in terms of developing the mythology and the technique. That is not to say that it does not deliver something new to the mix, but it perhaps takes the franchise in a direction that many of us may not have thought of. For a start, this is the first time that the perspective is outside of the realm of the family of Katie and Kristie, the pair of sisters who have been the focus of the previous three installments. In some respects, it is quite refreshing to have a new set of characters to guide us through all the demonic madness; Kathryn Newton and Matt Shively make for an entertaining pairing, and have a light humorous chemistry that injects the proceedings with a more youthful and perhaps innocent spirit than previous installments. Despite the refreshing cast of characters, it does not feel like this should be the natural progression for the franchise. Coming out of family circle feels somewhat of a step backwards in terms of story development and in regards to the mythology, as we re-discover plot aspects through these characters that we were already aware of. There is very much the sense that this installment is perhaps just filler for a much bigger and probably-time-it-got-there conclusion.

However, that is not to say that PA4 is disappointing, quite the contrary. I had an absolute blast watching this movie! I would say that it is perhaps the scariest installment since the first one. It effectively incorporates the use of webcams and, rather creatively, the X-Box Kinect. Joost and Schulman truly are craftsman at developing tension through long takes that crazily send your eyes all over the frame. In one particular extended sequence involving a knife, I was breaking out in a sweat due to how unbearable the situation was (you’ll see what I mean). In terms of the other scares of the movie, your general teases and jumps developed for laughs are all present and correct. Once it feels like you’re getting much of the same thing, Joost and Schulman pull the rug from beneath your feet, and escalate to a nerve-shredding conclusion, that racks up the tension to unbearable and intense levels, culminating in an insane final shot that throws up so many possibilities for the future of the franchise. Thankfully, they also retain their knowing sense of humor, sometimes coupling the laughs and scares together in a stupidly entertaining combination.

The best way to experience this movie, and indeed many horrors, is to turn off your judgmental side and embrace what is on the screen, and if it is well conceived and conducted, you will find yourself having a great time. Such was the case with PA4. As a self-proclaimed fan of the franchise, I certainly did go in with the hopeful intention of enjoying it, but I did not expect myself to get as wrapped up in the proceedings as I did. It helps if you’re in great company with like-minded people (I would say our masculinity is in crisis on evidence of some the sounds that I and a couple of my friends produced… you know who you are), but when a film is just going for balls out, well developed scares, both old and new, in as competent a fashion as this, then it is hard not to get wrapped up in the proceedings. Yes, cracks are certainly beginning to show within the well-worn tropes of this franchise, and I think that the inevitable fifth installment should be the last installment (so they’d better make it a good one). But, for now, we have another strong installment, that proved to be a great night out at the cinema for me and my friends. Perfect horror fun for this Halloween!

4/5- A 3-star movie, but a 4-star cinema experience; the franchise may be showing some cracks, but that doesn’t stop Paranormal Activity 4 from being a hugely satisfying, genuinely funny and scary roller-coaster ride of a movie.

The found footage technique of film-making is one that has mostly been associated with Horror movies; from the film that kicked it all off, The Blair Witch Project, to the lucrative Paranormal Activity franchise. It has rarely ventured into other genres as, lets be honest, it is a technique that is very well suited for generating scares. Horror movies use the frantic handheld effect to create a sense of panic, whilst at the same time using static positioned surveillance cameras to generate an atmosphere and crank up the suspense. If it does so well to create a believable world within ludicrous scenarios in the horror genre, it does beg the question as to why no one has applied it to other genres, namely Sci-Fi. Well, now someone has in the form Chronicle; a Sci-Fi Action Superhero movie which appears to have come from nowhere, and does more for the found footage technique than any Paranormal Activity‘s ever could.

The film is viewed through various camera positions, mainly the main protagonist’s (Dane DeHaaan’s Andrew) Diary Cam as three High School Senior’s, loner Andrew, Andrew’s more socially in-tune cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular yet sincere Steve (Steve Montgomery) come across a mysterious crater in the ground. After investigating and finding a strange, supposedly alien, object within, the three boys find themselves developing strange and unique abilities. They discover that not only can they move objects with their minds, but they can manipulate their telekinetic abilities to both shield themselves and achieve the ability of flight. The boys document their abilities as they continue to develop and grow stronger. But what started out as a means of joking around soon escalates into something much more dangerous, as the troubled Andrew grows more powerful and begins to lose control.

The film could have easily been a ‘power-corrupts’ tale, but it manages to bypass that cliche by creating an effective and rather tragic back drop for Andrew. Writer/director Josh Trank and fellow scriptwriter Max Landis (son of John) have managed to craft an emotionally involving, thoroughly entertaining and exhilarating take on the superhero genre. It genuinely works as a much better Superhero origins tale then most of the established comic-book movies in today’s rather comic-book centric movie culture on a fraction of the budget. We seem to have a new comic-book  adaptation every other month, not that I’m complaining, I’m a huge fan of comic-book movies, but it is very refreshing to see an original take on the superhero genre done in such an interesting style.

Chronicle would have worked perfectly well as a film in the traditional sense, yet it manages to make the found footage element seem relevant by expanding the capabilities of the technique in a way we’ve never seen before. Due to the abilities of the characters, there is no need for someone to always be behind the camera, leading to camerawork which is much more involving whilst maintaining the tension of a handheld effect, expect this time we have a floating effect. What would have been a static shot in your normal run-of-the-mill found-footage horror becomes instantly that much more fluid, leading to a more exciting experience. The static becomes cinematic. The hand-held camera technique works wonders in scenes in which we are left in the company of Andrew, generating an unsettling atmosphere through the gliding movements of the telekinetic-ally-held camera. The technique also makes the more exciting elements sizzle, particularly when the group learn to fly. Never has a film quite generated the experience of human flight in the way Chronicle does. It’s exactly as you imagine it would be if you had such an ability, it is an exhilarating and rather awe-inspiring sequence. Superman may have made you believe a man could fly; Chronicle lets you experience it.   

The most fun from the film comes from the earlier moments in which we witness the three guys testing out their new abilities in a matter of ways; be it moving cars or messing around in supermarkets, forming a unique friendship, albeit one that has moments of friction. It captures the giddy spirit that one would have if they suddenly found themselves with such abilities. Who wouldn’t mess about and just have fun with them? It is an incredibly human take on the superhero origin tale, and an element which some superhero movies tend to miss out on; why not just have fun with the powers, with no consequences and no lives to save? The film, however, does contain a foreboding sense of danger as the three friends soon begin to realise their full capabilities. And sure enough, when one of them begins to fully embrace that potential, the shit hits the fan. However, as I stated earlier, this is far from a power corrupts tale. Behind all the Sci-Fi action and found-footage hi-jinks, this is a teenage drama. Far from being the villain of the piece, Andrew is a tortured and disturbed teen, who goes through a Carrie-esque experience. His intentions are for the best, yet his hostile nature and over-whelming power soon get the better of him, and it truly is tragic. As a friend and I noted, there are some shades of Akira in the narrative, which makes the film familiar yet inventive through it’s depiction of the story material.

The sense of foreboding truly explodes in spectacular fashion in the final act of the movie. While the action is quick paced and exciting, this is a point of the film where I found the found-footage over-played a tad too much. Throughout the film we have been used to experiencing the action through two different camera sources, yet in the final act we experience it through all manners of camera devices; from iPhones, to police helicopters, to surveillance cameras. While it can be seen as a rather skillful use of editing, and it has to be commended for that, it is also too over-whelming, making it hard for the audience to keep track of which viewpoint we are actually viewing the action from, coupled with the fairly low-budget CGI (although that isn’t too much of a distraction), the action becomes a bit messy at parts. However, it is only in the final act that you feel the film would have worked better as a traditional movie, otherwise the movie is incredibly innovative in the way it employs the found-footage technique, proving that it can work outside of horror (we also have the upcoming Project X, which employs the technique to a teen comedy). Trank is very much a director to keep an eye on, and if the recent rumors are anything to go by, I think he would be more than capable of bringing the Fantastic Four back to the big screen (he couldn’t do any worse could he?). Trank and Landis have created a stunning and thoroughly entertaining superhero teen drama, which makes you think twice about the use of found-footage as a film technique. And it should also be noted that this should be the closest Hollywood ever comes to remaking Akira. 

4/5- A Hollywood Superhero movie with a refreshing Indie spirit; Chronicle, for the most part, mixes Teen Drama and Sci-Fi action to optimum effect, with an original and highly innovative take on the ‘found-footage’ style. This is a film which will be rather hard to forget.