The horror genre is like Rodney Dangerfield. Neither gets much respect.
The late comic milked that for laughs, tugging on his tie in mock desperation. The horror genre, by embracing found footage storytelling, is only making matters worse.
The found footage technique, which jolted popular culture with 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” now weighs down the genre.
It’s been roughly 25 years since “The Silence of the Lambs” slayed Oscar voters, a rare moment when the industry honored a product dripping with fake blood. It was a hiccup in the show business order.
Horror remains a franchise to be looked down upon, a place where young directors toil until their big break. Future stars like Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger find work in horror movies and then flee from them like Lou Costello running from Bela Lugosi.
Lately, the genre isn’t doing much to defend its dignity. Horror movies cling to remakes and reboots along with the rest of a spooked Hollywood system. Going all in on the found footage format makes matters worse.
Consider “As Above/So Below,” the latest found footage release which opened Aug. 29. The film offers an original premise – a group of researchers explore the tunnels below Paris armed only with their knowledge of ancient civilizations. What follows is an intermittently engaging film, but one where the found footage format keeps interrupting the fun.
Some of the same questions we have with any found footage release pull us out of the story.
Whose vantage point are we watching now? How did they recover the footage? Who edited it all together into a cohesive story? How did they get that angle? Why won’t the camera man drop the [expletive] camera and run for his life, for crying out loud?
Horror movies already expect plenty from us. We’re supposed to swallow people who always travel alone, drop their weapons when they think the killer is dead and trap themselves in places with no hope of escape.
Why add another layer of nonsense?
It partially boils down to money. These films are much cheaper to make, and since the industry distrusts the genre in the first place, that makes it more likely to get a horror tale greenlit. Tell that to the folks behind “Insidious,” a microbudget horror that delivered major scares.
Today’s technology allows a fledgling auteur to make movies at a fraction of the cost. Money shouldn’t be the deciding factor for a horror director with both vision and passion.
The found footage technique did give us some unique frights, from “[REC]” to the first few “Paranormal Activity” films. Now, we’ve grown numb to its perks thanks to standard-issue overkill. This year alone we’ve seen it used in “Willow Creek,” “Devil’s Due” and “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” A trailer for “The Pyramid,” yet another found footage release, played before “As Above/So Below.”
Found footage has become a symbol of a genre hanging a “Kick Me” sign on its celluloid back.