“Found footage” films, which hit the mainstream in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project and began a resurgence with 2008’s Cloverfield, should see a big boost this year following The Devil Inside’s surprise domination of last weekend’s box office — the divisive, wretchedly concluded horror movie, shot for less than $1 million, earned $34.5 million and claimed Hollywood’s third-highest January opening of all time.
A sizable batch of found-footage productions will aim to re-create Devil’s success in the months to come: a thriller set on an airplane, a thriller set in the Vatican (from The Devil Inside director William Brent Bell), a superhero movie, a high school party flick, at least one more haunted-house tale, and Paranormal Activity 4.
“There will be a glut in the marketplace and a lot of movies that aren’t good, because I think to a lot of people in Hollywood it can seem very attractive, a get-rich-quick scheme,” The Devil Inside executive producer Steven Schneider tells the L.A. Times in a thorough deep-dive on the craze. “But I’m hopeful that after it will level out. This isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a really good way to tell a story.”
The success of reality TV (Jersey Shore: still pulling in millions and millions) and single-camera, mockumentary prime-time comedies like The Office and Modern Family, combined with everyday YouTubing, makes found footage feel like the inevitable transposition of a low(er)-budget sensibility to the big screen. “I think people enjoy intimacy more now,” says Nima Nourizadeh, the first-time director behind upcoming found-footage release Project X. “They’re watching things online and movies like this give them the sense that they could shoot something like this too.”
Studios and film pundits are no doubt eager to see if the found-footage trend can boost ticket sales after 2011’s poor showing — the lowest domestic box-office gross since 1995 — or if oversaturation will wear audiences out early.
Another Devil Inside exec-producer, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, makes a point that may indicate found footage’s longevity, like it or not: “These films are so wildly profitable — and even when they’re not, the cost of them is so little that it’s an easier shot to take.”