“It’s a little cliched, don’t you think?”, says director Andrew (Tom Saporito), after reading, along with us, the ominous text – about a couple’s disappearance while ‘vacatoining’ [sic] – with which the film begins. For us that film is Steven DeGennaro’s feature debut Found Footage 3D – but for Andrew, his co-director, writer and star Derek (Carter Roy), Derek’s ex-wife and co-lead Amy (Alena von Stroheim), Derek’s brother and videographer/editor Mark (Chris O’Brien), sound recordist Carl (Scott Allen Perry) and PA Lily (Jessica Perrin), the film that they are making is shakicam ghost story Spectre of Death, which Derek hopes to distinguish from many similar movies through a simple, saleable gimmick. “We are shooting the first ever found footage movie – in 3D!”
“How does that even make sense in the story?,” protests Andrew. “Who shoots their vacation videos in 3D?” So here, even in the film’s opening sequence, we see a tension emerging between Derek’s obsession with cheap, cash-in razzamatazz that treats its audience as idiots and milks them for all they are worth, and Andrew’s determination against all odds to turn “vomit-inducing, amateur-hour bullshit” into “something halfway decent”. From all this verbal to-ing and fro-ing emerges a dialectic about the conflicting pressures of genre filmmaking. What we are watching is not Spectre of Death itself, but Mark’s behind-the-scenes production video (also shot in 3D), making this found footage of a most reflexive kind, consumed by its own commentary – which is, stereoscopic silliness and even 3D split screens aside, the real innovation that DeGennaro brings to the format. This is not so much Scary Movie-style dumb-assed spoofery as self-aware, sophisticated meta-horror – think Scream updated for the digicam generation.
If there are frictions between Derek and Andrew, the tensions between Derek and Amy are even greater. Even as they play a doomed couple whose endless arguments and negative emotions manifest themselves as the hellish spectre of the title, the actors too appear to be working through their own unresolved feelings towards each other – and so the horrors of the screenplay bleed into reality until the story’s ghost starts invading the set, and Mark’s video evidence risks becoming found footage in its own right. A location visit by genre critic Scott Weinberg (playing himself; he also gets a co-producer’s credit) only adds to the sense of a film where the normal boundaries between story and production, artifice and artefact, are utterly deconstructed.
Found Footage 3D is a little cliched, but it also knows it. Its prime location is not only an iconic ‘cabin in the woods‘, but an old family home on the Texan backroads (one of the producers, Kim Henkel, co-wrote the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and wrote and directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation). What is more, every rule of the found footage format is here stated, debated and deflated, before finally being reaffirmed, in the postmodern way. Yet by repeatedly drawing attention to the hackneyed nature of his film’s many tropes while still giving each of them a fresh spin, DeGennaro gets to have his cake and shoot it too. The results are smart, funny, and ultimately frightening, making Found Footage 3D a discovery that is canny and uncanny all at once. And, for those of you who are fed up to the teeth with both found footage and 3D, both are very good here.
© Anton Bitel