There is no shortage of bad found footage movies that have plagued the horror genre since The Blair Witch Project exploded onto the scene in 1999. Thanks to that film’s massive success and subsequent redefining of the genre, anyone with two friends and a camcorder suddenly became a director of feature-length horror films, most of which consisted of 90 minutes of aimless picking around and bickering in the name of “conflict” until the camera shook and cut to black in the final moments. This is a fact not lost upon writer/director Steven DeGennaro in his debut feature, Found Footage 3D, a film that is a brilliant sendup of the subgenre, a loving tribute to found footage, and one of the best surprises in horror this year.
Having recently made its world premiere at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival, Found Footage 3D follows a small group of filmmakers, who, intent on making a name for themselves, set out to shoot the world’s first found footage movie in 3D. Their movie is about a couple, Derek and Amy (Carter Roy and Alena von Stroheim), whose marriage is crumbling, so they travel to a remote cabin in the woods to work through their issues. It just so happens that the two actors in the fake found footage movie actually are married and are on the outs, in part because Derek sees Amy as “difficult” and in part because she sees that he’s more interested in other women, including Lily (Jessica Perrin), a beautiful but naive young woman who is brought on as a PA after meeting Derek at a party (and whose gradual ascent through the ranks of the production is one of the film’s many inspired jokes). Also joining the crew is put-upon director Andrew (Tom Saporito), endlessly sarcastic soundman Carl (Scott Allen Perry, stealing every scene in which he appears), and Mark (Chris O’Brien), the cinematographer and Derek’s brother, who appears to have some unexplored chemistry with Amy.
If the plot description of the movie sounds light on actual plot and heavy on explaining the characters and what their relationships to one another are, that’s no accident. Found Footage 3D is first and foremost a character piece, throwing six people together (later seven when horror guru Scott Weinberg shows up in a very funny cameo playing himself; he also acted as producer on the film) and seeing what happens when one toxic dynamic begins to infect the whole group. Though each acts as his or her own archetype for each of the personality types found on a film set, the actors all avoid turning their characters into stock clichés, finding the humanity within the comedy within the horror.
The ensemble is, to a person, fantastic. One minute they have us laughing at the absurdity of “industry types,” then seconds later are totally sympathetic in their individual plights. We care enough about these people that just watching a movie about them hanging out in a cabin and trying to make a movie would be completely satisfying even without any of the horror stuff. DeGennaro understands this, cleverly using our own investment against us at all the right moments; he draws us into a character beat, prepares us for a payoff and—WHAM—that’s when the movie hits us with a scare. The construction is so goddamn clever.
Consider, for example, the very “hook” of the movie, which is to be the first-ever found footage movie shot in 3D (at the time it went into production, this was the case; Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension technically beat this one to the punch, but that’s a movie destined to be forgotten). On the one hand, it’s ludicrous and completely at odds with the found footage aesthetic, which is to provide as “real” and immediate an experience as cinema allows. By putting the idea in the brain of cynical, opportunistic Derek, Found Footage 3D stays a step ahead of the audience by openly admitting to all of its own potential faults—it beats us to the critical punch, at the same time mining satire about the way artistic decisions are made in the movie business.
But as goofy as the idea of a 3D found footage movie may sound, director DeGennaro fully leans into the concept and delivers one of the best 3D experiences I’ve had in a theater since the format had its resurgence in 2009. This isn’t a slapdash post-conversion; the depth and clarity have clearly been thought through, and the movie offers a number of sequences in which the 3D is used in new ways to brilliant effect. It’s one of the few theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time that I won’t just suggest be seen theatrically in 3D, but demand it.
There are so many ways that Found Footage 3D could have imploded, as evidenced by the self-aware cynicism of its title. But Steven DeGennaro and his terrific cast have instead crafted a movie that is the opposite of cynical, as it takes two of the cheapest marketing scourges currently blighting the horror landscape—the found footage film and 3D exhibition—and instead turns both into some of the movie’s biggest assets. This isn’t just a movie that makes lemonade out of 3D, found footage lemons. It’s one of the best 3D and one of the best found footage movies I’ve ever seen. Found Footage 3D is really something special.
Movie Score: 4/5