My Top 5 Favorite Cinéma Vérité/Found Footage Genre Films

I think it’s safe to say that the Cinéma Vérité/Found Footage gimmick has become a solid sub-genre in the horror canon.  It all began back in 1980 with Ruggero Deodato’s notorious CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, in which a team goes out searching for a missing documentary film crew who was making a film on some indigenous tribes in the Amazon.  We all know they found no traces of the film crew but they did recover the film they shot.  And as they watched that film we saw the horrifying ends that crew met.  This is officially the first “found footage” horror film.

We all know the elements that go into this sub-genre:  Shaky camera work, at times unfocused images, voice-overs/narration of the “filmmaker”, and jumpy edits that skip scenes.  All this is done to obtain a level of realism and make the viewer question whether what they’re seeing on screen actually occurred.  There’s no doubt that 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT thrust this sub-genre into the minds of movie-goers everywhere.  Personally I didn’t care for the film but ya gotta admire how BLAIR WITCH was promoted.  I remember seeing that film surrounded by a bunch of vapid-minded teens who wholeheartedly believed the actors on screen really died.  Leaving the theater after the film I remember one future-leader of tomorrow turning to her boyfriend saying, “I can’t believe those poor people are dead.”  It was at that point I realized we need to make 69th trimester abortions legal.  It also made me realize how powerful the found footage sub-genre can be.


Over the years we’ve been exposed to tons of “found footage” flicks, some good ones (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, CLOVERFIELD) and some terrible ones (LAKE MUNGO, MONSTER).  When the “found footage” is done right it can really add a degree of believability to the project and suck you, as the viewer, into the film.  When done poorly it’s laughable and makes you wanna slap the filmmakers.  As you can see from the title of this article I’m also including the Cinéma Vérité sub-genre into the mix.  This, literally translated, means “truthful cinema” and has more than one foot in the “found footage” camp.  I’ve included this category here because one of the films on my list is more Cinéma Vérité than found footage.

So here’s my List of My Favorite Cinéma Vérité/Found Footage Films.  The ones that made my list are films that I believe really did the “found footage”-thing right!!

What do you think of my list?  You know I love the feedback and always wanna know you favorites.  Do you even like the “found footage” sub-genre or think that’s its just been done to death and that it’s time to move on?  Here we go … (and please note these films are in ascending order)

5.  THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007; see my review here).  As a whole I felt this film didn’t go far enough.  It delved into some truly disturbing territory but kept pulling back which hurt the overall effect.  This one ended up feeling like you just watched a special on serial killers on The Discovery Channel.  It’s a shame too because the found footage scenes were really well done and totally brought you into the story.  The story unfolds from the point of view of the FBI who, we’re told, discovered 100’s of hours of tapes made by a man who went on a decade’s long torture, killing, raping, dismemberment spree.  If you love the “found footage” sub-genre, this one’s worth checking out just for those scenes alone.

4.  OUTTAKE REEL (2010; my review will be posted soon).  I just recently watched this one (this is the film that sparked this list), and I really liked the different approach this one takes.  Here, instead of some randomly found footage, we see the behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of a horror movie.  This film is being used by the State of California to build a case against the director Tom Grayson.  My review is coming soon so I won’t go into any more details.  But for the sake of this list this different approach to the “found footage” sub-genre was really well done and added a layer of realism to the overall film.

3.  The AUGUST UNDERGROUND TRILOGY (2001, 2003, 2007; see my article here).  This trilogy, made up of the films AUGUST UNDERGROUND, MORDUM, and PENANCE, is a series of films that is definitely not for everyone.  It’s also the kind of films that’s hard to say you “enjoy”.  You need to be one degenerate, desensitized, and extreme/hardcore horror fan to be able to sit through these films.  These films have a very simple notion; we follow around two sociopathic, sadistic nut bags as they film their murder, rape, humiliation, and extremely gory crime spree.  The films are put out by ToeTag Pictures and over the course of the three films we can see how both the murderers and director-actor Fred Vogel matures.  Each film gets more and more disturbing as the two serial killers get more and more sadistic.  This is perhaps the most extreme example of the “found footage” sub-genre ever put on film!!

2.  WITHOUT WARNING (1994; TV movie).  This one aired on October 30, 1994 on network television.  That’s right … a TV movie on network television has made my top 5 list!!  WITHOUT WARNING documents through live, “breaking news” news reports our first contact with alien intelligence.  What starts as a simple news story about some meteorites falling to earth develops into a round-the-clock news coverage story.  This one falls into the Cinéma Vérité category and let me tell you that it’s realistic as hell!!  The movie even begins with some crappy faux-TV show that gets “interrupted” for the news of the meteorites.  There were even announcements during commercial breaks telling viewers that “What you are seeing is a fictionalized account of events”.  But the TV station that aired it still got hundreds of panicked calls from viewers who thought they were seeing a real-life tragedy unfolding.  But best of all is the ending … one of the most depressing and cataclysmic endings you’ll ever see.  Solid stuff!!

1.  THE TROLL HUNTER (2010; see my review here).  You had to have known this was gonna make my number one spot (it did get a rare 5 stars from me).  What we are watching here is the edited (in chronological order) film of over 283 minutes of raw footage taken by a group of documentary filmmakers who are following around a troll hunter.  This film has everything:  amazing gigantic creatures, great acting, great story, and it nails the “found footage” perfectly.  This one’s being released sometime later this year.  I’ll keep you all up to date.

So that’s my list.  What do you think?  What are your choices??

Stay Bloody!!!

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20 Responses to My Top 5 Favorite Cinéma Vérité/Found Footage Genre Films

  1. NewZealandFilm-Maker says:

    Even though it might fall more into the mockumentary genre, you should definitely include Forgotten Silver (1995) by New Zealand film-makers Costa Botes and Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit). Absolutely brilliant film,it screened on New Zealand’s state owned television network advertised as a documentary and there was such outrage from the public, from the people who were fooled. Definitely worth a watch

  2. Adam says:

    The found footage sequence in Event Horizon scared the shit out of me ( I wish the whole movie was like that), It spawned the Dead Space franchise.

    • I’d forgotten all about the found footage sequence in EVENT HORIZON. But your absolutely right … it was scary and creepy as hell!! I think EVENT HORIZON is an underrated film!!

  3. G says:

    Have you seen the Spanish movie ” [Rec] “?

    • I of course saw REC … loved it. I didn’t include it on this list because it’s not really a “found footage” flick. But they do a great job and are WAY more successful at it than BLAIR WITCH was!!

  4. pixi says:

    so disappointed in the poughkeepsie tapes.
    way too overhyped.
    feels immaturely written and terribly acted/overacted.
    the only thing that grabbed my interest was the last interview with the surviving victim.
    when she went to scratch her head.
    that blew me away.
    the rest of the movie should have been that good.
    love ur site.

    • Thanks Pixi!! I was also really disappointed with THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES. They had the framework of a really disturbing film & instead just kept constantly kept pulling back.

      I liked the interview with the survivor as well. That was one helled up chick!!

  5. ………am I seeing that correctly… is that screen shot of August Underground Mordum showing some poor shmo getting placed underneath an upside down decapitated female? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    How do I MISS these things?!?!?!?!?!?!?!


    I’m elated that we both loved Cloverfield. That one, like Paranormal Activity, placed me in a lone group of ONE that liked it in my clique of peeps. They ….. just….. don’t…… get it…


    • I do love me some AUGUST UNDERGROUND!! I’m a huge fan of Fred Vogel and wrote an article on him last year. Just search for “Fred Vogel” on my site and the article will pop up.

      I was in the minority for liking CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY too!! CLOVERFIELD, simply put, kicks ass!! And people were being very snobby about PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. It’s a well made, well acted, and effective film!!

  6. Laura Best says:

    Reminds me of my dad, who walked in on the middle of a segment of Without Warning and freaked out. 🙂
    I haven’t seen most of these, will try them.
    I do like the found footage sub-genre, simply because it forces the story to be told to us in a different way than normal. It’s like a writer’s exercise, and always has interesting if not perfect results, I think.
    Another interesting but flawed found footage/faux documentary I’ve enjoyed is The Last Broadcast.
    Thanks for the recommendations!

    • I was living in Ottawa, Canada when I saw WITHOUT WARNING and before the 2nd commercial break I got a call from my mom in New Jersey semi-panicked about what she was seeing on the TV. Without even asking her what she was watching I cut her off and told her it was a movie!! LOL

      I also really enjoy the found footage sub-genre. What I like about it is that besides pulling you deeper into the story, we as the viewer also don’t get any more info than the characters on the screen. Like in CLOVERFIELD; we didn’t see the creature before the characters on screen did. We had no more info on the creature than the characters did (which was none).

      Let me know what you think of the films as you watch them!!

  7. My mom love love loves WITHOUT WARNING and wanted to buy us a copy only there are no copies. I guess all the hullabulloo caused by the illiterate masses freaked out the company and they never released one. I love the homage to Orson Welle’s WAR OF THE WORLDS implicit in this one and it is totally on my “to watch” list.

    I haven’t seen too many of these horror films but I do love BLAIR WITCH 1 and 2. I know, I know, you hate the second film. But if it weren’t for the second one then how would we know that Rustin Parr’s house, where the filmmakers were running up and down the stairs and screaming at the end of the film, is only ruins. So how the hell did they capture something that’s not there on film!?!?!? GAAAAAAH! I can’t even watch the first film anymore, I get so freaked out by the ending.

    • I just couldn’t get into BLAIR WITCH; not sure why. I actually enjoyed WITCH 2 … way more than I thought I would.

      Send me your address to my email Sezin ([email protected]) and I’ll mail ya a copy of WITHOUT WARNING!!

      • Are you serious!?!?!? You are THE BEST, Scott! THANK YOU! Where ever did you ever find copies of it?

        BLAIR WITCH 1 & 2 are so different and that’s what I love about the both of them. They really pushed the narrative envelope by drastically changing their approach. Plus it’s just creepy creepy. And I love the music.

        Email on its way to you! 🙂

      • The soundtrack from BLAIR WITCH 2 was great and I liked the approach to the storytelling too.

        I found copies of WITHOUT WARNING at an electronics store called Frye’s.

  8. Barry Napier says:

    I know it may be cliched, but I really enjoyed The Last Broadcast.

    I have never even heard of Without Warning. Sounds like something I’d really enjoy it, though.

    • That’s not cliched at all Barry!! I really enjoyed LAST BROADCAST as well. The only reason it didn’t make my list was because I wasn’t too crazy about the ending and how they abandoned the “found footage” format. But overall its a solid flick, no doubt!!

      WITHOUT WARNING is just a fantastic film all around. It’s really fun and had you glued to the screen!!