OUT OF THE WOODS: 3 NEW IDEAS TO INVIGORATE THE FOUND FOOTAGE SUB GENRE
‘Tis the season for Blair Witch, and while we’ve noted that it doesn’t quite live up to the original, it ought to make for a satisfying time at the theater for fans of the found footage sub-genre. In a way, that sub-genre has gotten too big for its own good. As is the case with Blair Witch, these films draw familiar actors now, which makes the stories seem a little bit more staged, thus taking away from the whole point of the found footage effect to some degree. But even if we’re done being “tricked” by the approach, it’s still a fun style for a scary movie, and it’s one that we’ll no doubt continue to see more of in the coming years.
The interesting question is where these films will go in the future. Horror in the woods or in dark houses is arguably getting a little bit old, and one fun way for found footage to stay relevant, or perhaps to get ahead of the curve, would be for filmmakers to start exploring more interesting or unique settings. These are a few that come to mind as potentially perfect options.
A Shipwreck Scuba Dive
Scuba diving is inherently spooky to a lot of people, particularly when the goal is to explore a shipwreck rather than to look at colorful fish and coral. It would be a challenging task to make a found footage film primarily underwater, but the end result could be the most innovative project in the genre, potentially ever. The idea would need to be that a diver in the party has a camera strapped to his suit, and the characters would need to be able to communicate freely via wireless systems in their masks, but both of those things could be done fairly believably.
As for subject matter, a whole lot can be done by pairing the paranormal with the aforementioned spookiness of underwater shipwrecks. More specifically, a shocking story that was recently in the news revealed that a Nazi U-boat had been discovered off the coast of North Carolina — likely with up to 45 Nazis (or their remains, at least), still on board. Underwater Nazi zombies might be straying a little bit toward B-movie territory, but the general idea is still clear. A found footage scuba film dealing with any sort of ghostly occurrences on a sunken, ancient vessel would be a very interesting project.
An African Safari
Safaris are generally seen as fun, carefree experiences, but they’re also set up perfectly for found footage horror. People go off into the wilderness where help is hard to find, in small groups and with camcorders and cameras wherever it’s allowed. It’s almost as if act one of a safari horror story is already written for us. The trick would be coming up with an interesting way to make something horrible happen out in the wilderness — particularly during daylight.
The most obvious idea would be to enhance a wild beast in some monstrous way. This is something typical of sea monsters and the like (think Cloverfield), but we don’t tend to think of wild African animals as monsters. There is an online game, however, that provides the spark of an idea. Situated among the animal- and character-based casino games at Gala’s online platform, “White King” shows off a stunning all-white lion with piercing blue eyes lording over the wilderness. In practice it’s just a slot machine and there’s nothing spooky about it, but the beast himself is ghostly and haunting, and might make for a nice blueprint. Rather than found footage capturing some larger-than-life monster, it could simply be a matter of being hunted by a unique twist on an ordinary animal, like a white lion demonstrating unusual cunning, or leading a unified pride.
A Mountain Hike
The idea here is not that just any mountain hike will do. Rather, it’s that the world is full of fascinating, massive mountains that draw travelers from all over the world. Tourists flock to peaks that can take days to reach, and do so eager for adventure, setting up a found footage concept every bit as nicely and naturally as a safari. All that would be needed is an idea for a monster or a set of scary mysteries and circumstances that could befall a small group of hikers.
The best blueprint that comes to mind, in the spirit of the Nazi U-boat or the White King game, is the concept of the masks of Yalung, that were littered throughout the video game Far Cry 4. That game involves a fictional civilization high in the Himalayas, and throughout the experience the player can find masks from a deadly serial killer, who leaves them behind on his victims. This sort of thing would be creepy anywhere, but imagine the horror of encountering such a legend on a real world peak? It wouldn’t matter if we’re talking Everest, Machu Picchu, or anywhere else in the world. A local legend of a deadly killer or fearsome spirit would put the cast of characters on edge early on, and the escalation of scares would work pretty well as they climbed higher toward their destination.
Found footage is still a lot of fun, even in Blair Witch. But it’s going to start getting a little bit stale if filmmakers don’t make more of an effort to change up the settings and circumstances. These are just three concepts of what that could look like.