The best found-footage horror films

Haunted house

Dr Cecilia Sayad, Senior Lecturer in Film at the School of Arts, has chosen her top found-footage horror films for this Halloween: you’ll be watching through your fingers.

Cecilia is the author of Performing Authorship: Self-Inscription and Corporeality in the Cinema (I B Tauris, 2013) and co-editor of Film Criticism in the Digital Age (with Professor Mattias Frey, Rutgers University Press, 2015). She has published articles on horror in Screen and Cinema Journal, and her ‘Found-Footage Horror and the Frame’s Undoing’ won the BAFTSS Award for Best Journal Article in 2017. Her forthcoming book, to be published by Oxford UP, is on the relationship between horror, documentaries, technology and reality.

Paranormal Activity 1, 2, 3 (Oren Peli, 2007; Tod Williams, 2010; Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2011)
The Paranormal Activity franchise improved on what the pioneering Blair Witch Project started: the playful use of a documentary look and narrative to enhance the film’s fear factor. The PA movies resort to a variety of camera types and angles to reveal a family’s attempt to record supernatural phenomena in their homes. The franchise keeps going (a seventh instalment is announced for 2022), but the first three films are the ones really worth seeing. PA 3 indulges in a 1980s nostalgia, showing us images captured on VHS tapes; the highlight is a camera placed on a ventilator’s oscillator, scanning the space in disturbingly long takes. Don’t try to replicate what the characters do at home, unless you’re up for encountering previously unseen housemates.

[•REC] (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007)
Fancy a scary story that you can relate to the current pandemic? [•REC] follows a TV crew inside a building barricaded by authorities in order to prevent the spread of a virus that turns humans into flesh-eating monsters. Stay clear if connections with real life are not your idea of a properly escapist Halloween—in which case you should stick to the ‘safety’ of demons and ghosts.

The Visit (M. Night Shyamalan, 2015)
Shyamalan’s attempt at the found-footage cycle may produce some laughs (the film is categorized as found-footage horror/comedy), but its creepiness should not be undermined. Psycho has proven that finding monsters within the family is a successful recipe, and this film’s grandparents owe nothing to Norman Bates’s mum.