Dashcam is a recently released found footage film creating a lot of buzz among horror fans, and it offers a lot of innovative ideas to the well-known subgenre. Popularized in the 2000s, this cinematic technique aims in presenting the movie as if it were something discovered later on, often through video recordings.
As technology advances, a lot of new ideas are blended into found-footage tropes, which work so great with horror. In the past 20 years, only a few movies managed to propose something creative and innovative to this subgenre that has become more and more saturated as years go by, especially when it comes to horror projects.
Afflicted starts as a typical found footage movie, as childhood friends Clif and Derek decide to film their trip around the world. The trip is Derek’s last wish after he found out he has an AVM and could die at any moment. After one night with a mysterious girl, their tour takes a dark turn when Derek contracts a sinister illness.
The film knows perfectly how to blend the body horror subgenre into found-footage tropes, and when it switches to a thrilling horror narrative as viewers follow Derek on a killing spree, it’s interesting to see the perspective of the protagonist becoming an antagonist to himself. It provokes a confusing feeling as one wants to cheer for Derek but at the same time feels sorrow for him.
The Den (2013)
The Den is an unsettling journey into the heart of darkness, offering a found footage setup that often feels disturbingly real. The film follows Elizabeth, a young woman studying the habits of webcam chat users from the apparent safety of her own home. After witnessing a brutal murder online, she is quickly drawn into an absolute nightmare where her life and that of her loved ones are put at stake.
Pioneering techniques that would be used in movies such as Unfriended and Searching, The Den rejects a supernatural angle to invest in the terrifying underground world of the “deep web”, a topic that was quite mystified at the time.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Set in a world where Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers are real, a documentary crew follows the next great psycho slasher as he plans to take down the small town of Glen Echo. Behind the Mask is one of the most self-aware horror movies out there, following the same path as Scream by deconstructing several horror conventions and cliches, while also delivering a satisfying meta-narrative.
The craziest thing about the movie, though, is the abrupt shift in its structure as it abandons the found footage style midway to deep dive into a standard horror film approach, becoming a completely different movie with a brand new perspective.
Lake Mungo (2008)
While most of the film follows a steady mockumentary structure, the use of found footage tropes within Lake Mungo ends up being the most interesting and terrifying thing about the movie. Set in the Australian countryside, it follows a grieving family experiencing a series of unexpected events centered in and around their house after their 16-year-old Alice is found drowned in the nearby lake.
The use of found footage is subtle in the beginning, present in the moments where Alice’s brother finds blurred images of her hidden in pictures he’s taken, so he convinces his family to set up recordings around the house to capture Alice’s ghost. The found footage soon merges into the mockumentary structure, delivering a chilling climax at the end of one of the scariest horror sequences of the century so far.
Troll Hunter (2010)
Troll Hunter is a Norwegian found footage movie that offers a brand new take on the subgenre. Instead of going for the typical ghost story or stalker setup, the movie follows a group of students investigating a series of bear killings, suspecting that there’s something sinister involved. When they trace a mysterious hunter nearby, they discover a fascinating, yet frightening truth.
Troll Hunter shares some similarities with its predecessor Cloverfield but is much more effective in establishing its mythology. It’s a visually stunning found footage movie across Norwegian landscapes, with interesting designs for creatures that are mostly overlooked in the horror genre.
Less than 60 minutes long, Host doesn’t fail to deliver an effective horror experience even with its short running time. It was a sensation at the time of its release and the reason why it’s considered such an innovative movie has all to do with timing. It came out at the bulk of the Covid-19 pandemic, offering a compelling scary story set told entirely through Zoom, hitting close to home for any audience in the world.
In the movie, six friends hire a medium to hold a seancé via Zoom during the lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as an evil spirit goes after them one by one in their houses. Host manages to scare viewers without being disrespectful to the delicate pandemic circumstances, offering both terror and comfort in hard times.
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
One Cut of the Dead is considered the best Japanese found footage horror movie by IMDB, as it manages to balance horror and comedy at ease, while also delivering an incredibly self-aware story. The film follows a chaotic movie set, as the crew of a low-budget zombie movie is suddenly attacked by real bloodthirsty zombies.
Beyond blending bloody violence and scary sequences with hilarious elements, One Cut of the Dead is the kind of movie that goes through many transformations as the narrative goes on. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say the third act is simply an unforgettable punch line.
During the pandemic, there was a boost of found footage movies set in an online environment, but none of them managed to cross boundaries as Spree did. Joe Keery from Stranger Things plays Kurt, a rideshare driver thirsty for followers that sets up a shocking plan to go viral with a disturbing live stream.
Blending the consequences of social media livestream into found-footage conventions, Spree is a fun ride in the mind of a psychopath and offers a relevant discussion on society’s thirst for violence and the current obsession with going viral online.
Following the same line of thought, Dashcam takes the livestream initiative to a much more chaotic extent; the protagonist is Annie Hardy, playing herself, a real-life controversial figure in the online world. As she carries on a self-deluded livestream, terrifying events begin to happen, igniting the worst night of Hardy’s life.
Dashcam is a much more polemic take on the pandemic and the choice of putting Annie Hardy in the spotlight is bold, as the things said by her and the choices she goes for are just as nasty as the terrifying events taking place. Most importantly, the movie feels like an actual livestream, with the audience’s comments popping up throughout the movie and Annie getting more views as things get weirder.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
It’s impossible to talk about the found footage trope without mentioning The Blair Witch Project, as it influenced pretty much every other movie alike in the past 20 years. While there were many notable mockumentaries released before, such as Cannibal Holocaust and Threads, The Blair Witch Project pioneered many storytelling techniques in the found footage scope. Most importantly, it was a massive box office hit, offering hope to many independent aspiring filmmakers.
In the film, three student filmmakers disappear while investigating the legend of a witch in the woods of Maryland. One year later their footage is found, showing their horrifying fate. Many people thought the movie was real, which caused it to widespread in times when the internet wasn’t even a thing. The Blair Witch Project remains the most influential found footage film to date.
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