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New Release Review [Shudder] - THE FOUND FOOTAGE PHENOMENON

The Found Footage Phenomenon review
Exploration of the found-footage sub-genre.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sarah Appleton, Phillip Escott

The Found Footage Phenomenon poster


Much like 3D, found-footage filmmaking is a technique that initially drew in audiences before they quickly grew exhausted by the sheer number of movies employing the device. For roughly a decade beginning around 2007, found footage movies were unavoidable, with everyone from Hollywood moguls like JJ Abrams to your film student cousin knocking out an example of the form. So over saturated was the market that the mere mention of found-footage is enough to cause most cinephiles to now roll their eyes.

The Found Footage Phenomenon review

With their feature documentary The Found Footage Phenomenon, directors Sarah Appleton and Phillip Escott argue the case for the sub-genre that shined briefly and burned out slowly. They've assembled an impressive roster of talking heads, mostly indie filmmakers behind the key titles of the movement. Among them are Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), Rob Savage (Host), Dean Alioto (The McPherson Tape), Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) and Stephen Volk (Ghostwatch).


Like any sub-genre, there's always been a debate around what exactly constitutes a found-footage movie. Appleton and Escott fail to narrow down a definition, and by citing Orson Welles' Mercury Theater radio production of 'The War of the Worlds', they seem to suggest that anything presented as "real" qualifies. It makes sense then that they heavily discuss BBC's infamous Ghostwatch, yet there's no mention of its precursors like the fake British science show Alternative 3 or the string of 1980s and '90s American TV movies that presented themselves in the form of news broadcasts (Without Warning, Countdown to Looking Glass, Special Bulletin). As the doc sticks almost rigidly to the horror genre, there's no credit given to Spinal Tap and its many clones. Aside from the pandemic hit Host, movies like Unfriended and Profile, which play out on laptop screens, are strangely ignored.

The Found Footage Phenomenon review

Appleton and Escott tend to stick to focussing on the movies involving the filmmakers they're interviewing. This means we begin with Cannibal Holocaust but skip a full decade to 1989's The McPherson Tape. The latter movie's director, Dean Alioto, provides some of the documentary's greatest insights, and it's nice to see him acknowledged as a key figure in a movement many mistakenly believe began a decade later with The Blair Witch Project.


Coming so soon after the exhaustive folk-horror overview Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, The Found Footage Phenomenon is defined as much by its omissions as its inclusions. It's understandable that a lot of time be spent on The Blair Witch, but despite that movie being a massive hit, it didn't really kickstart the found footage wave. That would come a decade later with the release of Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity, which truly led to a rash of imitators and its own series of diminishing sequels. It's quite baffling how little time is devoted to Peli's film, and no acknowledgment is given to the ongoing franchise it spawned.

The Found Footage Phenomenon review

While a little too enamoured of the sub-genre, Appleton and Escott's film is certainly worth a watch for horror fans thanks to the insights provided by the featured filmmakers. But if you're sitting down with pen and paper expecting to add a bunch of titles to your to-watch list ala Woodlands…, you may end up with a largely blank sheet by the end as it sticks to several key works and refuses to expand on its own loose definitions of the sub-genre.

The Found Footage Phenomenon
 is on Shudder from May 19th.



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