|Das ist sehr gut!|
I don't think 'found footage' can be classed as it's own genre, as there are a number of them out there that fall squarely into the 'horror' bracket, but that doesn't stop people pretending it is. Let's look, first of all, at what 'found footage' actually means. It means footage that has been found. WOOF! That's just blown my mind! That's a pretty easy description and mission statement, yet any film that involves first person camera views and/or footage filmed by the characters themselves and/or anything that utilises other camera devices gets called 'found footage', when there is, crucially, no framing device that posits what we're watching/about to watch/have just watched has been, you know, found.
CHRONICLE is an excellent example of a film that uses other cameras/devices to document events to tell a story, yet isn't in any way 'found'. THE BORDERLANDS is another, and I'll come back to this in a moment. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a prime example of a found footage film that adheres to the core mission statement - a producer starts the film by telling us, the audience, that what we're about to watch is an un-aired episode of a new ghost hunting show called Grave Encounters. And I can't talk about found footage films without noting THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, because I like to be obvious every now and again. That film tells us we're watching tapes that were recovered. Mission statement: met.
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1. There needs to be a reason why is the camera still rolling when scary/weird things happen.
2. There shouldn't be any external music/sound design ie a score or soundtrack.
3. How has the footage been edited? Technically, it shouldn't have been.
THE BORDERLANDS meets (almost) all these requirements with aplomb. It tells the story of a church-sponsored 'miracle investigator', a priest and a tech expert. Together, they're charged with investigating a small English church after footage depicting unexplained object/body/camera behaviour surfaces. Is it a miracle? The techie's been paid to document everything in case they stumble upon conclusive proof, the investigator is there to offer an expert opinion, and the priest can verify the spiritual aspects of whatever they may find. Every member of the team is fitted with little cameras, their cottage and church is fitted with CCTV and other fancy bits and bobs. Everything we as the audience hear is what the characters hear, and it's exceptional sound design. Upon first viewing, it doesn't appear to have been edited in a 'cinematic' way, but subsequent viewings reveal cuts to simultaneous events, which breaks the third rule a little, but it works so what the hell.
Well, it would break the third rule expect THE BORDERLANDS never pretends to have been recovered footage...plus the ending makes it effectively impossible for that have to have happened. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, WAYNE? I'm not elaborating, but I will say the ending is actually horrific and utterly brilliant, but not in the way you'd expect. The artwork that apparently apes 'CABIN IN THE WOODS' may give you some idea what to expect, but in a more literal way.
THE BORDERLANDS makes use of technology as a story-telling device, rather than relies on it, as is the case with the majority of actual found footage films. Plus, when creepy stuff happens, these guys do leg it, because although they're inherently curious, they're not idiots. The interplay between the core team is well-written without resorting to stereotypes, although the priest at the allegedly haunted church isn't the best actor, nor is an older gent who appears in the third act. Yet despite these faults (it is a low budget - albeit polished - film, after all) the fictive dream remains intact. What is going on with the church? The answer/implications are genuinely creepy, not to mention tie in wonderfully with the setting.
Right about now would be a great time to segue into mentioning APOLLO 18, the notoriously bad found footage film set on the moon! But I haven't seen it, so I shan't.
Instead, let's answer the main question: when is a found footage film not a found footage film? When it hasn't been found, of course! So what does this make it instead? Faux documentary? Multiple camera first person? Ultimately, does it matter as long as it's well-written and competently made? I suppose not. Just as long as you don't borrow the style of a found footage film then commit the cardinal sin of having nothing of interest happen until the last five minutes, and even then it's not, er, interesting. HOLLOW, I'm looking at you! Christ on a bike, that film's awful.