Friday, June 19, 2020

The McPherson Tape

Dean Alioto

Found footage films are often vilified largely because of the sheer number of them. The entry bar for a found footage movie is that you own something that can record video and that’s it. This is even more minimal than the other common entry-point for horror, zombie movies, which at least requires some torn up clothing and maybe a little make-up as well. When a found footage movie doesn’t work, it is often a boring amateurish slog filled with ugly images and terrible acting. When a found footage movie comes together the result is electrifying. This style of film can summon a powerful verisimilitude. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999) is undoubtedly the first found footage film most people saw and it was a success based on a viral market campaign that existed before viral marketing campaigns were even a thing. Prior to this was The Last Broadcast (1998), a tale of the Jersey Devil, told in a documentary style. There are smatterings of proto-found footage movies prior to the but The McPherson Tape lays out the blueprint for the modern found footage horror movie.

In the 80s every party was an ugly sweater party.

It’s interesting to see how much of the structure of The McPherson Tape is duplicated in The Blair Witch Project. The structure of found footage horror has not changed much at all. There is a lengthy set-up while we establish a normal, almost dull existence that feels like anyone could have shot on film, and then in the background, the horror element begins to take hold. There is often a sense of breathless chaos as our characters are dropped into a situation that they have no hope of escaping before succumbing in the final moments and leaving only a camera to be found later.

"Are you taping over my Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes!?"

At barely over an hour-long, The McPherson Tape goes from a family birthday party to a mysterious power outage and finally to a close encounter with some grey aliens. The first half of the film is paced well, with the slowly building tension as we know something unearthly is lurking outside but we are helpless to watch this family blunder into it. The second half starts to drag-on as all the running around in the dark grows less interesting. Then the family decides to ignore everything and play cards(?) I understand that this is the panicky reaction of a group of people thrown into something they have no capacity to deal with but it feels very off and worse it kills the momentum. Thankfully, the film pays off with a quiet and understated final moment.

The McPherson Tape is the blueprint for so much found footage horror that comes later and it is worth checking out simply for that, but it also offers some genuine tension and a final scene that is effectively chilling. If you love lo-fi horror this is not a bad way to spend an hour.

No comments:

Post a Comment