It’s a shame that, almost 14 years after The Blair Witch Project hit screens, we still can’t avoid mentioning it when talking about found-footage genre films. It’s understandable – it set a new standard for low-budget theatrical releases, and turned the greater public on to faux-documentary horror movies – but many found-footage frights have come out since, for better or worse, and it’s too bad the world still compares them to this one film. (I am, sadly, no different.)
After all, we don’t compare western films to 1903′s The Great Train Robbery any more, because so many new standards have been set in that genre since. There have certainly been plenty of low-budget, found-footage horrors since The Blair Witch Project, but is it possible that no one has trumped it yet?
Although Hollywood has, so far, failed to best Blair Witch, these two vicious videos present a good challenge.
BLOOD: Not much, but not needed
Beginning as an idyllic trip to England’s countryside, this slow-boiler takes the Rosemary’s Baby route by building domestic strife into a supernatural, killer climax.
Good-girl Emma (Emily Plumtree) brings her smarmy fiancé Scott (Matt Stokoe), longtime friend James (Sam Stockman), and James’ gal, Lynn (Jessica Ellerby), to her late grandfather’s cabin in remote Suffolk, England for the weekend. As James’ camcorder documents the trip, Emma’s mysterious family history and her connection to a creepy nearby tree (known as a prime suicide spot) are revealed through old family artifacts. While learning more and more about local legends, the gang partake in drug-fuelled debauchery and act on adulterous feelings, until emotions explode and creepy things start to occur.
The strength in Hollow comes from the actors’ natural performance and Matthew Holt’s script, which is light on scares but extremely heavy on atmosphere. You can almost see the bleak countryside eating away at the characters as their personalities are slowly stripped to their ugly cores, all leading up to the tense, claustrophobic climax.
Director Michael Axelgaard also does a great job streamlining his exposition to the bare essentials, moving the plot forward and allowing nonverbal elements (e.g., body language) to speak the loudest.
I understand that the weary fright fiend may not be willing to sit through another faux documentary, but this one is far less hollow than many of its found-footage friends and will remind you just how effective the subgenre can be.
BLOOD: Tons of torsos torn apart, but you have to be patient
BUDGET: Also unknown
What if a ghost-hunting team actually stumbled upon a real haunting? Several films have already anwsered that question, but it’s what director James P. Weatherall asked himself before making The Legend of the 5ive. Not the most original of premises, but the film stands out thanks to its silly satire and surprising brutality.
The movie opens like many other faux documentaries, with the main character, Julia (Leenah Seelig), explaining the story. She is a documentarian meeting up with Paranormal Investigations Inc. to explore the legendary Emerson Farm in Northhamptonshire, England – a place where five people were murdered, their bodies arranged in positions that correspond to the points of a pentagram. Through Julia, the team members are introduced one-by-one and essentially run the gamut of typical ghost hunters (i.e. the host, the clairvoyant, the trainee, etc).
What would normally be a daunting bit of exposition feels more like a collection of outtake-worthy foibles (saying things wrong, tripping over words, and general clumsiness). The team is a thinly veiled parody of the typical ghost-show cast – the host is pretentious, the psychic is goofy and inaccurate, the trainee is an over-emotional goth, and so on – and it’s and just plain fun to watch them stumble about. Things progress as you’d expect, with ominous sounds (“It’s probably just a bird”) and spooky things seen peripherally (“Did you see that?”), until the team really starts to taunt the ghosts, demanding they show themselves. As expected, things get ugly. The climax features a lot of chaotic running around, but it’s broken up pretty well by some horrific death scenes where bodies are literally torn apart.
Claiming to be inspired by the alleged crimes of Anne Foster, the last woman convicted and hanged for witchcraft during the Salem trials, this telegenic terror takes soaring liberties with her story.
Although it has a much lower budget than other ghost-hunting horrors such as Grave Encounters, this Blair Witch-style flick is a scathing criticism of paranormal programs and, thanks to its cartoonish characters and gruesome deaths, more of a hoot to watch.
Hollow is currently available on VOD through many major retailers. It’s also available on DVD in the UK and will be coming out in the US on February 19 and on March 5 in Canada. Legend of the 5ive is currently making the festival rounds and looking for distribution; you can find more information at the5ivemovie.com.