They say art imitates life but the best found footage horror movies tread a dangerous scary line between terror and reality, and in an age where technology is supposed to be our best friend, a handy camera is never too far away. Some of the best horror movies are shot as found footage, a sub-genre popularized by 1980's Cannibal Holocaust that was later redefined by The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
But now the genre fits better than ever thanks to live streams, zoom calls, and the obsession to document every inch of our lives on social media. This creates a terrifying immediacy to the best found footage horror movies that you just can't get anywhere else, making it even harder to sleep afterward. Even night vision has been entirely ruined by found footage movies. Is anyone truly going to turn on that green hue and not prepare for their imminent demise? Without further ado, here are the best-found footage films to scare yourself into oblivion.
10. The Tunnel
In what is probably one of the most underrated found footage horror movies ever made, The Tunnel follows a team of journalists as they investigate a government cover-up on water shortages in Sydney. Their investigation leads them to a network of abandoned train tunnels below the city, but as they venture further into the shafts, the crew soon realize that the story they're hunting just may be hunting them. This low-budget but highly effective movie takes 'The Backrooms' to a whole new level and just some of the best monster movies such as The Descent, this Australian flick takes audiences to places they would never dream of going. Don't expect to get much sleep after this one as The Tunnel is pure nightmare fuel and will make you avoid all underground rail systems for quite some time afterward.
Post-covid, pandemic-themed horror hasn't gone down too well, with many of us not wanting to be reminded of those turbulent few years. However, Host is not a movie about the coronavirus, but rather one that was made during those times. The film transports you right back to the midst of the lockdown, where a group of friends having a Zoom party (relatable) decide to hire a medium to hold a virtual seance (not so relatable). As things take a turn for the worst, the group soon realizes they have made a terrible mistake and even the non-believers start to feel the effects of the paranormal. For this one make sure you are watching on your laptop as the whole movie is caught on a webcam call, making you feel as if you're part of it. Host has been labeled as Unfriended's more mature older sister for its affective scares and chillingly realistic feel.
Creep is probably the least scary movie on this list but that's not to say it isn't disturbing and as the title suggests – just creepy. The 2014 flick follows a videographer on his way to a remote mountain town to shoot the last message of a dying man, whom he found on Craigslist of all places. As the messages get weirder, this one-day job takes a strange turn and when night falls, the cameraman soon comes to terms with the fact that his client is not at all what he initially seemed. The unpredictability and eccentric manner of the dying man makes this movie completely bizarre and uncomfortable to watch, but the anticipation of what this man will do next will keep your eyes glued to the screen, and if you have a certain sick sense of humor then this may be up there with the best horror comedies for you. Creep is not only one of the top found-footage horror movies but also one of the best Netflix horror movies available to stream right now.
Anthology horrors can be wildly inconsistent but there's something beautifully grungy and brilliant about V/H/S that elevates it above the dross. It's the most meta of found footage movies. A criminal gang break into a house to steal a videotape that they've been offered money to retrieve but they find a dead man sitting in front of TV sets amidst a sea of blank videotapes. Lo and behold, they start watching the tapes which are the other found footage shorts that make up the movie. The shorts are of varying degrees of distressing but The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger is brilliant and Adam Wingard's meta narrative that wraps around the shorts is shockingly inventive. The flick has since been turned into a franchise with worthy additions such as V/H/S/2, grab some friends and popcorn - you won't be disappointed.
Read our V/H/S review.
6. Grave Encounters
There are few scenarios that sound worse to me than being trapped in an abandoned mental asylum at night. Now imagine it's haunted. Grave Encounters follows the crew of a paranormal reality television program who lock themselves in a haunted psychiatric hospital in search of evidence of ghostly activity. The team uncovers an unexplained phenomenon and quickly realizes that the building is more than just haunted – it is alive – and has no intention of ever letting its new inhabitants leave. Terrorized by the ghosts of former patients in a maze of endless corridors, the crew slips deeper into madness as they attempt to film what will be their last episode. Grave Encounters is the perfect sleepover movie, full of scares and twists – it's the film that walked so that As Above So Below could run.
Read our Grave Encounters review.
5. Hell House LLC
Haunted houses are meant to be fun-scary, the kind of scary that lets you leave giggling and falling over your friends, maybe go and get a hotdog afterward to calm your nerves. Not Hell House LLC. Following the escapades of a group of scare entrepreneurs who are running a horror house for the first time in an abandoned hotel, this is not for the faint of heart. From the point of entry, the group knows that something is just not quite right with this house, from Poltergiest-esque bumps in the night to dark figures in the hallway, but just like any good old American, they persevere for the promise of profit. Everything you see from this point on has been discovered after a tragic event takes place on the opening night of the haunt. Surprisingly tense and truly creepy, this isn't one to watch if you have a fear of clowns or dark spaces. Or, y'know, maybe it is....
4. As Above, So Below
The Paris Catacombs are scary. Underground? Check? Ancient? Check? Entire corridors made up of the remains of six million dead bodies? Check. It actually takes quite a lot of work to make them less than absolutely terrifying - see Catacombs for a perfect example of how not to do it. While As Above, So Below shouldn't give you too many nightmares, Quarantine director John Erick Dowdle manages to keep a handle on the horrific claustrophobia of the caverns as a scholar hunts down a mythical object known as the Philosopher's Stone. Yes, that one, Harry Potter fans. It turns into a bit of a ridiculous romp in the third act as the GoPro switching amps up but until it descends into complete madness, there's enough successful shocks to make it worth the subterranean trip. It's even more impressive when you know it was shot in the catacombs themselves.
3. Paranormal Activity
No scoffing allowed, at number three sits one of the best ghost movies, or even demon movies in the genre, it’s the movie that caused many couples sleepless nights, Paranormal Activity. The original and best, this is another perfect example of the everyday becoming utterly terrifying. A lot like Blair Witch, this again blurs the line between fiction and reality as Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat start to experience strange goings on at night in their home. Posing a camera at the foot of the bed is of course the natural next step and what ensues is a tense descent into a haunted hell. Director Oran Peli's repetition of the same shot every night will make you physically dread the sun going down. Perfect pacing means we scrutinize every single part of the screen for movement, meaning that when something does happen, it's almost unbearable. Given that we all have to sleep at some point, you'll be leaving the lights on for a long time.
Read our Paranormal Activity review.
Rec is, quite simply, terrifying. It's a tense, seat/other human gripping rollercoaster into infected hell, making it both one of the best zombie movies and a turbulent journey into the unknown. Ignore the sub-standard American remake, pass Go, collect 200 popcorn kernels and settle down to 78 minutes of relentless Spanish horror to probably not eat said kernels. A TV host is trailing a group of firefighters for the night but when a call drags the team out to a building because of strange noises coming from one of the apartments, Angela and her cameraman end up seeing far more than they bargained for. Draw the curtains and crank up the sound. Yes, of course there's a night vision section. No really, you're welcome.
Read our Rec review.
1. The Blair Witch Project
The 1999 classic, now known as one of the best witch movies of all time, was made all the more tantalizing at its point of release by the viral marketing that circled the movie. Thanks to the delights of the then new-fangled internet and some very convincing missing posters, there was a lot of genuine concern as to whether Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams were actually still alive. The fact that the trio used their real names further blurred the lines between fiction and reality as they traipsed into the woods and made horror cinema history. Tapping into the most primal human fears of the dark and unknown, The Blair Witch Project is an exercise in terror. Every night the trio spend in their tent in the cold woods, their resolve unpicks itself and as you strain your own ears for the noises that seem just out of reach but are still very much there, you'll be entirely sucked along for the ride. As an aside, if you don't find the ending scary then you might just be fundamentally broken.
Read our The Blair Witch Project review.