Found footage has had it rough. After the success of the intensely DIY The Blair Witch Project in 1999, the filmmaking approach became indie horror’s go-to to turn miniscule budgets (and occasionally underdeveloped talent) into quick, visceral moneymakers with varying rates of success. But after seventeen years since the subgenre hit a cultural nerve, barrels of hacky missteps have left the term “found footage” with a coating of cliché. But to write off the genre would be a mistake – beyond allowing talented first-time filmmakers to get their foot in the cinematic door without investing millions of dollars into a project, found footage, if done correctly, can invest in effective realism, often resulting in filmmaking that’s more personal and compelling than traditional takes on genre.
With Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch sequel hitting theaters this week, it’s time to reflect on the approach – the bright spots, at least – and run down the best of the sub-genre, perhaps even redeeming the unfairly scorned style in the process.