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The 20 Most Realistic Found Footage Horror Movies


The 20 Most Realistic Found Footage Horror Movies


Why are horror films based on true events equally or more successful than those based on pure fiction? It’s a question that shouldn’t linger for so long, as audiences have been pretty clear about what they like and why. People are curious, and if they have the opportunity to see a reenactment of something that happened, regardless of realism, they will run. See the case of the true crime subgenre, for example. If a crime drama is based on fiction, it’s not even close to one that’s based on fact. Morbid curiosity is a reality, and yes, movies and TV shows have capitalized on that.

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In some cases, horror has used the tagline “based on true events,” and the story is not an inch closer to fact. It’s a marketing ploy, and curious viewers prove that it works. Researching is optional, and curious audiences prefer to believe if the horror effect is potentially bigger.

When it comes to found footage films, most of them run on this idea. In some of their cases, it’s the only way they can function from a narrative point of view. But does this mean they’re always realistic, aside from the obvious feature of being shot like something factual?

We asked ourselves the question and came up with a beautiful list of found footage horror films that used the realism style to provide scares and, in some cases, a disturbing feeling. Because one thing’s for sure: in the case of the following films, being based on fact isn’t even important. What’s important is that you’ll go to bed thinking that what you saw is undeniably real.

The following list may contain spoilers.

20 Murder Death Koreatown (2020)

Murder Death Koreatown is a found footage phenomenon that grabbed the world by the neck in 2020. In the film, an anonymous, unemployed man documents on camera his digging into a murder case that took place next door. A real murder. Tae Kyung Sung was killed by his wife, Misun Yoo, in a domestic violence incident. After a quick conviction, the case seemed to vanish until a curious dude started to investigate on his own, and, as the film shows, he comes across the harsh truth about the murder.

A Mysterious Film. Literally

The line dividing fact and fiction is blurred beyond recognition in one of the most bizarre filmmaking experiences of all time. Why? When the film was released in 2020 at the Unnamed Film Festival, it became available for some time, but then it seemed to vanish. No director or writers. Credits are nonexistent, and today it seems impossible to see the film anywhere. To know more about it, it’s necessary to go deeper into the internet, with all the risk that represents.

This viral marketing campaign can only be compared to that of The Blair Witch Project, but even that one had to come out in the clear at some point.

The mystery surrounding the film is much more powerful than the story, and yes, it makes for a very realistic and amateurish vision brought to life by someone who has decided to remain anonymous. Those of us who were fortunate enough to see it know that when it comes to realism, messing with a real-life murder is about as far as you can go. Murder Death Koreatown isn’t available to stream at the moment.

19 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project took audiences on a wild ride in 1999 when it presented a mockumentary that claimed to be real. The footage it consisted of contains evidence of what happened to Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard when they were shooting a documentary about a local legend in Burkitsville. Contrary to what its title may suggest, the film is a very realistic feature that digs very deep into the basics of universal fear. If this doesn’t scare you, then blood probably doesn’t run through your veins.

Sacrificing the Scare for a Bigger Effect

While some frown at the idea of The Blair Witch Project being a “realistic” film, it’s hard to argue against its representation of the threat and the ambiguity of its third act. This, of course, calls for conspiracy theories to reside on the internet about the truth of what we’re actually seeing.

Could it have been Josh who planned everything? Or Heather? Or a local serial killer? In any case, the evidence suggests otherwise, and yes, it draws elements from the supernatural subgenre. Luckily, it doesn’t go beyond its “based on true events” setting, and the film confidently stays on the rocky territory of doubt, one that was blurred during its extraordinary marketing campaign. You can stream The Blair Witch Project on Freevee.

18 The Bay (2012)

The Bay

The Bay

Release Date
September 13, 2012

Cast
Kristen Connolly , Jane McNeill , Christopher Denham , Michael Beasley , Kether Donohue , Anthony Reynolds

Runtime
85

Barry Levinson’s The Bay takes viewers to Claridge, a small coastal town that’s celebrating the Fourth of July festivities, when something very strange occurs. Very slowly, the town gets infested by parasitic isopods that have the ability to conquer about every living organism. The film is based on a rookie reporter’s footage that documents the town’s descent into chaos when the bugs take control of everyone. It’s one of the absolute best found footage films of the 2010s.

This Is What it Would Like if it Happened

The Bay is based on shock factor, of course. After all, it’s a cleverly designed mashup of a creature feature with found footage that allows its cinematographer to point to the key spots and nothing else.

It’s a film designed to scare you beyond your wits, and in order to accomplish this in modern horror, it applies a backdrop of non-specificity so that all characters matter the same, and any of them can be discarded at any moment. Perhaps the idea of parasites in the water feels far-fetched, but after watching The Bay, you will think twice before diving into a lake, and that’s enough. You can rent The Bay on Prime Video.

Related: 15 of the Most Highly Rewatchable Horror Movies

17 Megan Is Missing (2011)

Megan is Missing is a mockumentary that narrates the events that transpired before teenage girls Amy Herman and Megan Stewart went missing in 2007. In the film, the teens indulge in what all teens do when they start going out and hanging out with boys. The problem is that Megan connects with a boy online, and after setting up a date, she goes missing. Amy also does, and she also goes missing. The footage of her last days is found on a camera found in a trash bin. This is nightmare fuel for just about everyone.

The Cautionary Tale That Worked

It’s a very scary film by found footage standards. But its scare factor isn’t based on jump scares, except for one scene. It’s actually based on director Michael Goi’s decision not to leave anything to the imagination. This means the film runs on pure nihilism and the possibility that it may all end very badly for the missing teenagers.

Unfortunately for them, it does, and Megan Is Missing confirms its effect based on the realism of its approach: a victim’s worst nightmare materialized in a controversial film that, to this day, many believe to be based on facts. Clue: It’s not. You can rent Megan Is Missing on Prime Video.

16 Punishment Park (1971)

Punishment Park, a very early example of the cinéma vérité style of found footage films, puts the viewer in a period of political distress. The Vietnam War represents the dark descent of American politics, and the government has no intention of letting counter-culture groups roam free, promoting their agenda of peace and communal freedom.

A bunch of students, feminists, and hippies are arrested, but they face two options: they can be convicted and spend their time in prison, or they can make it through Punishment Park and be free. The problem is that the Park is actually a training ground for violent law enforcement officers.

Eerily and Uncomfortably Real

The exploitation film by Peter Watkins is not well-known outside cult film circles. However, Punishment Park is a fascinating take on the theme of the government barely stepping into authoritarian territory with a justice approach that’s radical and completely unfair to the accused.

Police violence has always been a reality. In current times, we’ve dared to speak up. Punishment Park was ahead of its time due to its visceral portrayal of the abuse of power that we’ve seen in news outlets in recent years, as technology allows everyone to see. In the case of this movie, a group of brave filmmakers dared to enter unknown territory and were left traumatized because of the outcome of a horrific social experiment. Punishment Park isn’t available to stream at the moment.

15 Horror in the High Desert (2021)

Horror in the High Desert

Horror in the High Desert

Release Date
March 27, 2021

Director
Dutch Marich

Cast
Suziey Block , Eric Mencis , David Morales , Tonya Williams Ogden

Runtime
1hr 22min

Found footage indie Horror in the High Desert is a mockumentary that narrates the frantic search of Gary Hinge, an amateur hiker who went missing in the Nevada Desert during one of his lonely adventures.

Police haven’t been able to recover evidence of what happened to Hinge, but as it turns out, some clues emerge. It’s not until one of Gary’s hands is found that we get a chance to see what could be the cause: the severed hand is holding a video camera, and inside that camera, there is footage.

An Unsettling Lack of Answers

When putting together the list, the premise was to leave out anything regarding the supernatural. With Horror in the High Desert, it’s kind of a stretch because nothing so horrific can come from this world. The film’s realistic tone is aided by the mockumentary approach that doesn’t let it go out of bounds when confirming what it’s all about.

This is the story of an innocent soul who found what he was looking for. Sadly, the encounter meant bad news. Horror in the High Desert is the best found footage horror film you haven’t seen yet, but you should do so right away. Stream on Prime Video.

14 The Sacrament (2013)

In The Sacrament, two journalists come upon a great opportunity to document the story of a lifetime. A co-worker finds that his sister has joined a religious organization that has moved in the middle of nowhere. Jake and Sam decide to go along for the ride to shoot a movie about the reunion.

When they arrive, they realize that they aren’t welcome in the commune, but Father authorizes their stay. After a few encounters with locals, everything feels too ideal for Jake and Sam, who decide to escape from the hole they’ve fallen into: this is a religious cult, and they don’t like outsiders.

Ti West’s The Sacrament is clearly a modern adaptation of the events that took place in Jonestown in the ’70s, when Pastor Jim Jones convinced his entire sect to commit suicide in the commune they lived in. The film could have been a shift from the real events, but West decides to shoot a realistic horror film that feels strangely real and compelling. Regardless of your taste for the found footage subgenre, if realism-based horror’s your thing, this is right up your alley. You can stream The Sacrament on Kanopy.

13 The Medium (2021)

The Medium is a mockumentary that tells the story of Nim, a shaman and spiritual healer who spends her days working as a witch in her local commune. She claims she’s possessed by a local goddess by the name of Ba Yan. But Nim wasn’t Ba Yan’s first choice. It was actually Nim’s sister, Noi, who refused to inherit the power because of religious differences.

The film narrates Nim’s journey as she tries to help her niece, Mink. Mink has started to behave very strangely and violently. After a few signs of possession, Nim starts believing this may be the result of a curse brought on by deities and spirits who disagree with the direction the family has taken.

Religious Horror Done Right

This international cooperation between Thailand and South Korea is a great execution of religious horror under the hands of Banjong Pisanthanakun, a horror director who showed his talents in previous and more traditional horror films like Shutter. The shift toward the mockumentary format feels natural, as The Medium is a film that never loses its balance and lets go of the idea that the story it’s telling may be true after all.

The Medium is a grounded horror film for fans of the genre who like to be teased with only a few scares and are fascinated with slow-burn horror. This is a perfect film for Halloween, and it’s never too late to start populating those watchlists. Stream on Shudder.

12 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust

Release Date
June 21, 1985

Director
Ruggero Deodato

Cast
Robert Kerman , Francesca Ciardi , Perry Pirkanen , Luca Barbareschi

Runtime
1hr 35min

Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust takes viewers to the Amazon for a terrifying vacation. Harold Monroe is a scientist who accepts an assignment to go to the most important rainforest on the planet, where a team of filmmakers has gone missing recently. Monroe arrives and finds out that the filmmakers have died at the hands of the indigenous tribes that reside in the area. Beside them, there is a film reel containing footage of what happened to them. The traumatized Monroe takes the trip back to New York City and leaves the reels for the world to see.

The Most Controversial Film of its Era

Regardless of what you may think about the film, the controversy is much more important than the quality of the film itself. Why? You just can’t beat real violence, and Deodato went for that. The film contains scenes of animal cruelty that simply exist for shock value and nothing more.

The realism is taken even further with a great display of practical effects that make the audience aware of the carnage and violence the filmmakers went through in their visit to the tribes. Yes, Cannibal Holocaust is an important product of its time, but it may be excessive by today’s standards, as nothing can condone some of its most graphic scenes. Stream on Peacock.

Related: 15 Actors Whose Best Performance Is in a Horror Movie

11 Man Bites Dog (1992)

Man Bites Dog

Man Bites Dog

Release Date
January 15, 1993

Director
Rémy Belvaux , André Bonzel , Benoît Poelvoorde

Cast
Benoît Poelvoorde , Jacqueline Poelvoorde-Pappaert , Nelly Pappaert , Hector Pappaert , Jenny Drye

Runtime
95 Minutes

Directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde, Man Bites Dog takes audiences on an unforgettable ride depicting the adventures of Ben, a very violent man who claims he’s a serial killer. Also a poet and musician, Ben boasts his talents while showing a filmmaking crew that he’s a full-blown murderer who gets away with homicide in a glorious fashion. Inevitably, the crew goes deep inside the nihilism-based journey and indirectly suffers the consequences.

An Audacious Work of Art

The very controversial but heavily influential film, Man Bites Dog, is a character study that holds no scruples when depicting a wicked man with absolute freedom to release his demons. Sure, it’s inevitable to ask if there can’t be something done about his acts, and there surely is, but the film never stops to ask the question.

It’s just an artistic reflection of man’s descent into a twisted state of mind that finds order in chaos. The film has been banned in many countries and is one of the few horror films to ever receive a NC-17 rating in America. You can stream Man Bites Dog on Max.

10 The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Release Date
January 30, 2009

Director
John Erick Dowdle

Cast
Stacy Chbosky , Ben Messmer , Samantha Robson , Ivar Brogger , Lou George , Amy Lyndon

Runtime
86

Poughkeepsie, New York. Law enforcement officers raid a deteriorated home in the small town, where they find more than 800 tapes containing the vicious acts of a serial killer by the name of Edward Carver. But these aren’t simple murders. Carver does his best to torture his victims beyond reason, and he always stays anonymous. When police continue viewing the tapes, they realize the killer may have revealed where the bodies are.

Undoubtedly, One of the Best Horror Movies of the 2000s

The Poughkeepsie Tapes, by John Erick Dowdle, is a great example of a shock value mockumentary that will make you think it exists because of its highly disturbing imagery and not much else. But when you come to think about it, in terms of size, Carver may be more prolific than we thought.

Also, the film’s reality-based conclusion will leave you in pieces when you notice the effect of the mastermind’s plan is even bigger than we give him credit for. No matter what people say, the effect of The Poughkeepsie Tapes makes it one of the most noteworthy found footage films of the 2000s. You can stream The Poughkeepsie Tapes on Tubi.

9 My Little Eye (2002)

In the 2002 horror thriller by Marc Evans, My Little Eye, five young adults turn into the contestants of a reality show. They will be handed out $1 million in cash if they can spend six months in a house in the middle of nowhere and no one leaves the house in that period. Of course, they accept, and the audience bears witness to the deterioration of their minds as they’re shot by surveillance cameras at all times. When strange events begin occurring, the chances of winning the money become minimal.

The Underrated One That No One Remembers

My Little Eye may not fall under the spectrum of the best British horror films ever made, but it’s interesting enough to draw your attention for an hour and a half of absolute paranoia. The film’s realism is only possible due to its gimmick of CCTV footage showing the main storyline unfold. Trust us when we say this one is worth checking out, if you can get past some lousy accents. The film’s also known for including Bradley Cooper in a very secondary performance. My Little Eye isn’t available to stream at the moment.

8 The Conspiracy (2012)

The Conspiracy

The Conspiracy

Release Date
August 23, 2012

Director
Christopher MacBride

Cast
Aaron Poole , James Gilbert , Ian Anderson , Peter Apostolopoulos , Roger Beck , Bruce Clayton

Runtime
85

Canadian horror thriller The Conspiracy is the most interesting film you didn’t see in 2012. It tells the story of Jim and Aaron, two filmmakers who, when they find a very interesting subject on the internet, decide to make a film about him. Terrance G. is the paranoid man who’s fascinated with conspiracy theories and has proof of the existence of the Tarsus Club, an elite society that dominates the world in the best style of the Illuminati. Terrance disappears, and Aaron and Jim fall into the rabbit hole of a mysterious organization that eventually contacts them and starts making demands.

It Will Make You Think, and That’s Enough

The third act and conclusion of this hidden gem of found footage will take you inside the world of conspiracy theories and how they’re represented in fiction. But the eerie and realistic tone of such a conclusion will leave you shaking as you imagine that something like this could be true.

In the end, the film doesn’t do much to confirm the true story of what you watched, but the unsettling feeling is much too heavy for this to be important. This is one of the most underrated found footage films of all time. You can stream The Conspiracy on Tubi.

7 One Cut of the Dead (2017)

One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead

Release Date
November 4, 2017

Director
Shin’ichirô Ueda

Cast
Takayuki Hamatsu , Yuzuki Akiyama , Harumi Shuhama , Kazuaki Nagaya , Hiroshi Ichihara , Mao

Runtime
96

One Cut of the Dead is Shin’ichirō Ueda’s quest to accomplish an original horror film. Against all odds, he makes an impressive and very interesting movie about movies. In the film, a crew is shooting a zombie at an abandoned water plant. But the film shoot gets interrupted by the arrival of real zombies, who wreak havoc on the production.

Cut to the process behind the scenes. And then cut to the true dynamics behind the film within a film. It feels confusing, but this is exactly what Ueda’s going for: a meta journey inside the rules of horror film production, where passion is everything and collaboration is the only ingredient.

The Most Original “Horror” Film You’ll Ever See

With its commentary on horror film production, One Cut of the Dead manages to be an interesting film that goes beyond the boundaries of a simple premise. This is not just a zombie film, though it may be one of the best in the subgenre. It’s actually very compelling to observe from an intimate point of view, as it goes inside a chaotic production process that can’t possibly end well, but passion for cinema always wins.

Once you get past its witty and gimmicky narrative structure, you come to terms with its distinctly realistic way of making you laugh and scare some members of the audience. You can stream One Cut of the Dead on Shudder.

6 Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

unfriended 2

Unfriended 2

Release Date
July 19, 2018

Director
Stephen Susco

Runtime
88

In Unfriended: Dark Web, the screen life horror sequel to Unfriended, Matias picks up a laptop that was left abandoned at a café. When he turns it on, he starts receiving messages with demands to return it. He realizes the hardware may be connected to the dark web. Suddenly, Matias and his friends become part of a conspiracy game that subjects them to all kinds of sick ploys that reveal there may be a powerful organization behind this.

A Sequel that Dares to Make a Change

The film’s shift from the original film is huge. The franchise goes out of the supernatural realm and stays within the lines of cybercrime and everything this world may represent. It’s eerily more impactful than the first, because the outcome is grounded, realistic, and quite poignant.

That happens in every one of the endings the film has (that actually depends on which version of the film you saw). When taking into account our current reality and relationship with AI, this one gets intensely relevant. You can rent Unfriended: Dark Web on Prime Video.

5 The Visit (2015)

The Visit

The Visit

Release Date
September 10, 2015

Runtime
94

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit tells the story of Becca and Tyler, two siblings who accept their mother’s proposal to spend a weekend with their grandparents while she goes on vacation with her new boyfriend. Becca and Tyler arrive, and at first, it looks like a great reunion they all needed, but then the true nature of the elderly couple comes out: they’re not exactly the loving grandparents they should be, and Becca and Tyler’s integrity is jeopardized.

The Return of a Natural

When you think about The Visit, all you can think of is Shyamalan’s return to the industry. But going deeper into this underrated found footage film, you can come across a very logical film that dares to step into a rocky territory that’s not often explored in cinema. The siblings’ grandparents are not violent because of some outlandish cause.

There’s logic in their madness, and it forces the film to be somewhat realistic in its chaos-driven third act. This will make you change your mind about spending time with your grandparents, so beware. You can stream The Visit on Max.

4 The Den (2013)

The Den

The Den

Release Date
December 12, 2013

Director
Zachary Donohue

Cast
Melanie Papalia , David Schlachtenhaufen , Matt Riedy , Adam Shapiro , Bill Oberst Jr. , Katija Pevec

Runtime
81

The screen-life horror thriller The Den was one of the first movies to be based on the computer screen gimmicky format that took viewers into a single setting where apparently horror stories can take place. This time, the victim is Elizabeth Benton, a sociology student who constantly logs into a chat site called The Den, where she studies the behavior of just about everyone. This is how she ultimately witnesses a crime, and unfortunately, she didn’t cover her tracks.

Through the use of her screen and various types of footage, we witness her encounter with snuff film enthusiasts.

Much More Than the Execution of a Cool Gimmick

The Den is one of the best screen-life films ever made. It’s tense, stays within the frontiers of logic, and doesn’t go out of its way to satisfy audiences with a happier and more optimistic ending. Sadly, Elizabeth’s journey becomes a nightmare as her stalkers are able to reach her.

The list is ridden with films that feel manipulated up to a point, but The Den isn’t one of them. It’s just a nightmarish depiction of something that could happen if you’re not very careful with the use of social media and the cybersecurity risks of today’s technology. You can stream The Den on Tubi.

Related: 20 Horror Films That Bent the Rules and Became Iconic Because of It

3 The Last Broadcast (1998)

The Last Broadcast

Release Date
October 23, 1998

Director
Stefan Avalos , Lance Weiler

Cast
David Beard , Lance Weiler , Stefan Avalos , Jim Seward , Rein Clabbers , Michele Pulaski , Tom Brunt , Mark Rublee

Main Genre
Horror

Runtime
86 Minutes

In Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler’s The Last Broadcast, we bear witness to the investigation of the Fact or Fiction murders. On a fateful night, a man goes missing, and the bodies of two are found terribly beaten. They were a documentary crew shooting an episode of their public broadcast show, and they entered the Pine Barrens to do a live show about the Jersey Devil. The events of that night were documented in film reels that were later found by the documentary director, who’s also the narrator of the film.

The One You Probably Never Saw and Should Have

The Last Broadcast is one of the pioneers of the independent side of found footage movies. A distant cousin to The Blair Witch Project, the film was made for a handful of cash, and it shows. Nevertheless, it’s much more effective than you could imagine and very important when you consider the dynamics of film production at a crossroads like the late ’90s.

It’s also a great example of analog horror at a time when this was a resource and not exactly a decision, and the film’s reveal is bloodcurdling. Seriously, some of you will get goosebumps when David Leigh, the director, makes the film’s most important discovery.

2 Hangman (2015)

Hangman is a very simple film. It tells the story of a family who is stalked by a man simply known as Hangman. When they go on vacation, Hangman breaks into their home, installs a bunch of hidden cameras, and makes himself a room in the attic. But he also isn’t very subtle. He wants to let them know he’s there. He leaves all kinds of clues for them to find, and he plays with their minds as this becomes more frequent.

The film opens with a scene that reveals this is not his first gig. If the Millers don’t do something about the invasion, they will suffer the same fate, and trust us when we say you will shiver at the idea.

You Will Probably Check Your House Every Night After Watching This One

The important thing about Hangman is that it’s never sugarcoated in order to be a friendly movie. It’s actually a very realistic take on a subgenre people identify with because it’s often misrepresented as possible but not exactly probable.

When you realize how easy it was for this guy to infiltrate the house, remain there, and watch them in their sleep, fear will flood your body. This one does exactly what a well-designed film should do: make you fear your own shadow in the safety of your own home. You can stream Hangman on Freevee.

1 Lake Mungo (2008)

Lake Mungo

Lake Mungo

Release Date
July 30, 2009

Director
Joel Anderson

Cast
Talia Zucker , Rosie Traynor , David Pledger , Martin Sharpe , Steve Jodrell , Tamara Donnellan

Runtime
89

Lake Mungo is the mockumentary that shows the Palmer family going through grief as they deal with the sudden death of teenager Alice, whose body was found in a lake after she drowned. The Palmers are unable to accept Alice’s death, but as they investigate, they realize Alice may have been familiar with the idea of her early demise. The family begins experiencing strange phenomena, but it all turns out to be a prank played by Mathew, Alice’s brother. Well, that’s until the joke’s over and the truth about Alice’s death comes to light.

A Beautiful and Sad “Ghost” Film You’ll Never Forget

We know. The list is supposed to be about realistic found footage, and you may be wondering what Lake Mungo is doing on the list. But actually, the film isn’t entirely based on the idea that Alice’s ghost is wandering around trying to tell her family something.

This is only something you’ll come to terms with during its conclusion, which lets you know that sometimes you have to look closer and observe the details. The Australian piece, Lake Mungo, is the scariest mockumentary you’ll ever see. You can stream Lake Mungo on Tubi.

Here’s a video about the scariest horror movies of all time, as ranked by Rotten Tomatoes:

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