I love horror, and a part of that love is recommending films in the genre that may have been overlooked. In this case, I want to change your mind about found footage with the best found footage horror films that will have you excited for the subgenre either because of their quality or because they’re innovative. In one case, the movie is just really scary and you have to remind yourself that it’s just a movie.
As a subgenre found footage gets a bad wrap. Given the wide release of the Paranormal Activity franchise and flops like The Gallows, a lot of viewers have grown tired of a genre that seems repetitive, given what has come out. For the most part, viewers often critique these predictable and cheesy films as representative of the genre as a whole. This is understandable given what comes out in theaters, but at the same time, the best found footage, when done right, can immerse you in a story so well that you begin to question if it’s real.
Now, because this is about films you probably haven’t seen, this list does exclude Paranormal Activity (the first one), The Blair With Project, and Cannibal Holocaust, all of which are best found footage heavy hitters that established the genre. So read on and start watching.
10. Blair Witch (2016)
Okay, so this is kind of cheating. A direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project, effectively erasing the terribly named and just plain terrible Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, this installment in the franchise was directed by Adam Wingard and got a surprise announcement at San Diego Comic Con in 2016. Initially called The Woods in its first trailer, Blair Witch takes audiences back to the Black Hills Forest with a new cast, including James Donahue, Heather’s brother. With the goal of getting answers for his sister’s disappearance 17 years earlier, his group meets much of the same fate as the last. The uniqueness of this film comes in the intense claustrophobia used to bring some of the best scares of the film and Wingard’s choice to use Go-Pro cameras and drones to add new elements to the found footage genre — even if those new angles make it look like a cut film at times.
9. Lake Mungo
Grief is hard, and when it comes to horror, it’s a driving force in many narratives. In Lake Mungo, directed by Joel Anderson, we follow a family that begins experiencing inexplicable events in their home after the death of 16-year old Alice. Struck by grief, her brother Matthew sets up a camera to capture her ghost on film. When the family hires a parapsychologist their investigation unveils Alice’s secret double life and leads them all to Lake Mungo. Lake Mungo is psychological and gets into the heart of grief and offers up scares along the way. With a few twists, Lake Mungo is a different take on found footage from the rest on the list.
8. Hell House LLC
Hell House LLC, written and directed by Stephen Cognetti and shot as a documentary, follows a group of haunted house creators as they prepare for the 2009 opening of their popular haunted attraction: Hell House. But tragedy strikes on opening night when an unknown malfunction causes the death of fifteen tour-goers and staff. In Hell House LLC we get to see the lead up to the tragedy and what went wrong that night. Like good found footage, the documentary-style makes you question the reality of the film and clears up the deaths that have been a mystery to the public.
7. As Above So Below
As Above So Below’s marketing had all the markings of typical theater horror that I mentioned it at the beginning of this article, which is why it took me a good few years after its release to see it. That being said, this is a fault of the studio and not the writer and director John Erick Dowdle. As Above So Below is disorienting, extremely supernatural, and uses a historical landmark primed for horror: the Catacombs of Paris. In the film, archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) has devoted her whole life to finding one of history’s greatest treasures: Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone, an artifact that according to legend can grant eternal life. Her research eventually leads her to the Catacombs of Paris, where she believes the stone to be hidden. Picking up at this point in her story, she assembles a crew to guide and document her historic mission. However, as they descend into the Catacombs, they enter a unique vision of hell.
Streamable on Netflix.
6. The Visit
Director M. Night Shyamalan has taken a lot of lip from genre fans and non-genre fans alike. In 2015, The Visit offered a different story than what we’re used to from the infamous director. A found footage film from through the eyes of teens, it follows two siblings that begin staying with their grandparents on a remote Pennsylvania farm for a week-long trip, to help their single-mom. But as the visit continues, the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in deeply disturbing activities. What is assumed to be illness quickly turns into something else, and the kids’ chances of getting back home dwindle as more is revealed.
REC (stylized as [•REC]) is a Spanish found footage supernatural zombie horror film co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. The film follows a reporter and her cameraman covering a firefighter intervention in an apartment building in Barcelona. If that sounds familiar it’s because it was remade in the United States as Quarantine, but don’t worry, watching that one doesn’t detract from REC’s tension building scares. The situation escalates after some of the building’s occupants show animalistic and murderous behavior. Balagueró and Plaza exploit containment horror to the fullest as the building becomes its own character and fuels the narrative.
Streamable on Netflix.
Probably one of the most known on the list V/H/S is a found footage horror anthology that offers up shorts written and directed by Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and the filmmaking collective Radio Silence. Given that they’re shorts, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you’re looking for good found footage, good story-telling, and even better themes, V/H/S is it.
Streamable on Netflix.
3. The Poughkeepsie Tapes
Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, no stranger to found footage, this remains one of the mythic films of horror. The Poughkeepsie Tapes troubled release history has lent to the air of mystery around the documentary-styled horror film set around describing “real-life” murders. The biggest thing I need to say is that even though I think everyone should watch it, not everyone can, since its hundreds of videotapes of torture, murder, and dismemberment show a killer’s decade-long activity. The film’s dark and visual nature has made it almost unstreamable on services and its out of print status has fueled the urban legend that it’s real and ultimately too much to watch. Enter at your own risk.
2. Capture Kill Release
This found-footage gem, directed by Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart, follows a couple plotting to murder a random stranger for the thrill of it. But as the story moves and the murder gets closer to reality, we realize one of them is more into than the other. The film is short, gory, and all kinds of great. Unlike most on the list, this one isn’t supernatural, making the violence more disturbing.
Streamable on Hulu.
Directed and written by the film’s stars, Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass respectively, Creep follows videographer Aaron who answers a listing on Craigslist to film a dying man’s last tape to his unborn child. As his client’s requests get increasingly bizarre, Aaron soon finds out that Josef isn’t what he seems as the night he spends gets stranger and more uncomfortable. There isn’t a lot of violence, there aren’t even the typical scares or thrills associated with the found footage subgenre. Instead, you enter a chilling and uncomfortable world that, as it begins to unfold, leaves you screaming in the closing scene. There are only three actors in the entire film and both Brice and Duplass deliver stellar performances.
Streamable on Netflix.
The best-found footage films are the ones that stick with you and push you into voyeurism or fear effortlessly. They put you in an intimate connection with the protagonist and their situation. So, get into the subgenre and let it freak you out.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.