Hungerford proves there’s life in found footage horror

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A remarkably assured debut from a 19-year-old director, Hungerford flies the flag for no-budget moviemaking.

Found footage films get a lot of (deserved) stick these days, largely as a result of the genre being inundated with tacky knock-offs trying to climb on board the Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity bandwagons. Too often the format just provides an excuse for lazy directors to not bother shooting their films properly, and subsequently passing it off as ‘realistic’ afterwards.

Everyone is a potential director, and if we have to endure the rubbish found footage to get films like Hungerford, then it’s worth it

In spite of that, however, the found footage sub-genre has done a lot to democratise the process of making movies: it provides aspiring filmmakers with a way to get their vision out to the public without needing access to big budgets or high-end camera equipment. Everyone with a digital camera is a potential director, and if we have to endure the rubbish found footage to get films like Hungerford, which might not otherwise have been made, then it’s worth it.

Drew Casson writes, directs and stars in his debut feature, and it’s an extremely accomplished science fiction horror film. He’s only 19, and on the evidence of Hungerford, he’s a director to keep your eye on – and he has absolutely amazing hair, as well. He completely sidesteps the usual shakycam incomprehensibility that found footage is prone to, and shoots very cleanly and confidently, recalling Josh Trank’s Chronicle in many ways.

Hungerford

It’s found footage that, for the most part, doesn’t look like found footage, and that is meant as high praise. To be sure, the video and audio in Hungerford occasionally distorts during dramatic moments, but that’s deliberately done to heighten the tension by reducing what we can see and hear: the unknown is always more frightening than the known.

Hungerford borrows liberally, to be sure, but there’s nothing wrong with borrowing if you do it well and put your own spin on it

It refers a great deal to other horror films: the climactic (and genuinely frightening) descent into the bowels of the fortress of the Hungerford creatures recalls the cramped, claustrophobic action of [REC], and the monsters themselves are 28 Days Later-esque fast zombies with a Bodysnatchers twist. For all that, though, the film it owes the most influence to, for both its setting and character dynamics, is Shaun of the Dead. It even gets mentioned by name at one point, when the characters are trying to decide which weapons to bring.

Main character Cowen and his best friend Adam are reminiscent of Shaun and Ed, with their bickering bromance and initial obliviousness that anything’s wrong in their home town – which extends to spending the evening getting drunk just after the town hall explodes. The plot later involves them going to rescue Cowen’s sort-of girlfriend, and dealing with a zombified dad. It borrows liberally, to be sure, but there’s nothing wrong with borrowing if you do it well and put your own spin on it, and Hungerford does precisely that.

Janine, Adam, Kip

It doesn’t have the comedic tone that Shaun did, although there are a few laughs, and ends up feeling as much like a post-apocalypse film as a zombie horror. The handheld, found footage style of shooting actually feels authentic, rather than a gimmick for its own sake as it is in most of these films: like [REC], the characters are determined to film everything so that there’s a record of what happened, and it really does feel like the final message from a society on the brink of collapse. Even in Chronicle, one of the very best found footage films, the presence of the camera felt fairly inexplicable a lot of the time, but that’s never an issue here.

Conventional wisdom is that found footage is a dead horse, but if it’s still capable of producing films like this, we shouldn’t give up on it yet

It helps that the production values are thoroughly impressive, as well. Some of the blood splatter effects aren’t entirely believable, particularly when the unhinged police officer starts shooting zombies in the head with a shotgun, but there’s some really impressive makeup work going on. Injuries look real and unpleasant, and the burnt face of one of the zombies frankly looks better than Two-Face did in The Dark Knight. Between these production values, the extremely talented cast – Casson particularly impresses as the star, but they’re all excellent – and the assured, confident direction, it’s a film which looks like it cost a lot more than it did.

The conventional wisdom is that found footage is a dead horse, but if it’s still capable of producing films like Hungerford, we shouldn’t give up on it yet. With good cameras and video editing software available relatively cheaply, it’s never been easier for people to just go out and make the film they want to make, and the fact that talented aspiring filmmakers can just pick up a camera and start shooting can only be good for the medium. Not every debut feature will be as good as Hungerford, certainly, but this is still a pretty exceptional found footage horror that deserves your attention.

Read more: Sci-Fi London: Dragonphoenix Chronicles

All images: Wild Seed Studios

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