Today’s cinema is littered with found footage movies. It seems that almost every month a new example of the genre hits the screen. It has become so prevalent that audiences (and me) are starting to tire of them. The quiet, quiet, BANG! horror films that spawn a never ending number of sequels without really explaining anything are now regarded as being rather samey and quite dull. They continue to be made as they are relatively cheap to make with no major stars to inflate the budget, and can turn a profit quite quickly. At one point found footage was actually exciting and innovative. An early example of this was the 2008 film Cloverfield.
There are two distinct parts to the story. It begins with the run up to and beginning of a farewell party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David). The event is being recorded on camcorder by his friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who fills out the party footage with testimonials from friends. The idea is that Rob has a keepsake while he is working away in Japan. As the camera interacts with the guests a few snippets of back story are revealed including Rob’s failed relationship with Beth. She turns up at the apartment and an awkward takes place resulting in her departing to avoid further confrontations. Several moments later all hell breaks loose. There is an explosion in the distance and the lights go out. The party guests head down to the streets to see what is going on. There is chaos. Fires, debris everywhere and the sound of gun battles fill the scene. It soon becomes apparent that something, perhaps a monster, is in the city. Rob’s first thoughts is for Beth. He gets her on the phone and decides to head across town to save her. His friends agree to go with him. All that stands between them and Beth is the unknown.
The film makes full use of the found footage style. The whole film consists only of footage recorded using a camcorder. The party sequences are suitably dull in terms of the viewer experience. Have you ever watched someone else’s home movies and really enjoyed them? This part sets up the style and the limitations of the camera. It also sets up the camera man as the narrator of the piece. The story is not spoon fed to the audience as you would expect from this type of film. The narration is cleverly done in that we only get information passed to us that is known to the protagonists. They encounter lots of people during their journey including police, army and medics who appear to know as much as they do. Thankfully there is not white coated scientist on hand to explain just what is going on around them. Don’t laugh. It has been done before!
The camera work is also used to build the tension. With a limited view from a single point you are conscious of the fact that danger can be lurking around every corner. The film makers understand that your imagination is more powerful than anything they can show on the screen. To this end the monster is only glimpsed in passing as the camera, like a person, reacts to sights and sounds rather than preempting them. A clever acknowledgement to the use of camcorders in the real world.
The main actors come over very well in the film. The dialogue is naturalistic and not plot heavy. There is no one person who takes on the role of the natural leader so confusion and hysteria take hold on several occasions. The story never feels forced at any point which is a testament to both the writer, Drew Goddard, and the actors. It is unusual to not have a grand speech from a main character with a suitably stirring soundtrack behind them. This film goes nowhere near this and to be honest is all the better for it. Fitting in with the ‘reality’ of the film there is no added music so the dramatic moods have to be conveyed by the actors alone.
Overall a tight and tense found footage monster movie that is made with real skill and thought. Recommended.