Found footage, horror comedies, and 3D movies.
If we sat down for a cup of coffee and you asked me which subgenres of horror have the highest chance of failing to work, that’s the list I’d give you. Found footage is an incredibly divisive film-making technique, and for good reason. For every instant classic like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or CREEP, there are a thousand no-budget cookie-cutter found-footage films trying to capitalize on the low barrier to entry and the potential for high returns. Though I’ve got a got a couple horror comedies in my short list of all-time greats, horror comedies frequently struggle to find the right balance between laughs and scares, and I can count on one hand the number of 3D movies I wouldn’t have enjoyed more in traditional 2D.
Enter writer-director Steven DeGennaro’s debut feature film, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D, and it’s a triumph on all fronts.
Conceived as the antidote to the common found-footage film, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D entered production in January of 2014. DeGennaro, a former sound designer and no stranger to the film business teamed with Charles Mulford (producer, TWO STEP) and Kim Henkel, the co-writer and producer of Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and writer-director of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION, to bring the world’s first 3D found-footage film. On paper, a 3D found-footage film makes no sense whatsoever, a fact the filmmakers are quick to smartly address and quickly move on from. In practice, this 3D found-footage film works like gangbusters.
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D begins as many found footage films do, with a clearly defined goal. We’re quickly introduced to a group of filmmakers headed by leading man Derek (Carter Roy), director Andrew (Tom Saporito), cameraman and Derek’s brother Mark (Chris O’Brien) and sound guy Carl (Scott Allen Perry) as they discuss the project they’re about to embark on, a found footage movie, “The Spectre of Death 3D”. Derek reveals to the audience and to his crew that not only are they making a found footage film, they’re going to make a making-of documentary, and to top it all off it’s all going to be in 3D. Andrew immediately derides the idea as absolutely ludicrous, and Derek says they’ll figure out how to make it work, because in order to get the big press, you’ve got to be the first to do something. Meta.
We’re then introduced to the rest of the cast, a production assistant with no experience, Lily, and the leading lady Amy (Alena von Stroheim) who also just so happens to be Derek’s estranged wife. With the players and the film’s conceit established, our story begins. What follows is a shockingly well-made film that’s hilarious right up until the point where it’s not. You see, they’re heading out into the middle of nowhere to film a found footage film about a failing marriage deteriorating in a haunted cabin, but the problem is that unbeknownst to them, they’re also starring in a found footage film about a failing marriage deteriorating in an actually haunted cabin. Once they arrive at the cabin, things go from strained to bad to worse once mysterious and horrifying things start happening.
The scares are sudden, vibrant, and earned. I will not rob you the reveal of what type of horror is on the table, but simply know that this is not a movie full of jump scares, which the characters openly deride as being for dumb audiences who don’t know any better. Similarly the 3D element isn’t tacked on for the sake of the gimmick, as it is in so much genre fare. The 3D effects are stellar. As I said earlier, I’m not the world’s biggest 3D fan, but this film fully embraces the format, and cleverly uses it to put you inside this world as it falls apart — it uses it to make the horror, both spectral and visceral, feel more real.
The film is well shot, perfectly replicating the style of footage one might find in a low budget making-of feature. The plot is whip crack smart and the performances are all organic and believable. One of the easiest way to screw up your found footage horror film is bad acting and FOUND FOOTAGE 3D deftly avoids that pitfall. Every character feels real and grounded in our world, which is key when shit starts hitting the fan. The entire cast is strong; Roy’s Derek is every inch a schlock film maker, O’Brien’s Mark is the shy technical wizard, Perrn’s Lily the charming if unremarkable easy target.
Standout brilliance comes in the form of Alena von Stroheim’s Amy. She is sympathetic, complex, and feels as real as any award bait mumblecore film could summon. Another standout is Tom Saporito’s Andrew, the horror fan audience surrogate, who cleverly voices every concern and supplies a healthy dose of meta commentary via a holistic and believable performance. Additionally, Scott Allen Perry’s Carl is in all honesty everything I strive to be in my life, and a source of many of the film’s best jokes. The inclusion of real-life film critic (and a producer of FOUND FOOTAGE 3D) Scott Weinberg is an additional treat, and is the meta cherry on top of this sundae of horror and comedy.
One of the few criticisms one could make of the film would be that it is almost too self-aware. After all, this film’s elevator pitch is that it’s “the SCREAM of the Found-Footage Genre,” and it means that in every sense of the word. As with SCREAM, there are scenes that ride the fine line between homage and parody, but the majority of the references are deep enough cuts that they don’t read as cheap. There are a handful of very smart references, and none of them veer too far into the wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory that would only serve to cheapen the film. A direct counterweight to the meta commentary is the emotional strength of the film. One of the strongest selling points of the found footage technique is that when executed well, an audience can grow emotionally entangled in the film, and that power is on full display here. This is not a parody; this is a love letter, to a lover whose faults you are well aware of, but one you love all the same.
DeGennaro and his cast and crew have brought to life the ideal love child of multiple gimmicks and the end result is much greater than the sum of its parts. Smartly written, believably acted, and deftly crafted, FOUND FOOTAGE 3D is funny, smart, and scary as hell. When you get the chance, you need to see this movie.
FOUND FOOTAGE 3D’s world premiere is Saturday August 20th, at the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival.