The found footage style can be applied to just about any genre in existence, from superheroes to sci-fi to war flicks to comedies to adventure films and beyond. But ever since the inception of this method, credited to the cult title Cannibal Holocaust, the filmmaking technique has taken hold of the horror industry in a unique way. Due to the style’s cheap production cost, several low budget movies that go directly to video-on-demand or that are released to DVD from the get-go utilize this approach. This has caused an oversaturation in the market, and genre fatigue has gripped horror fans, who now roll their eyes when they hear of a new found footage movie being released.
“…found footage movies are oversaturated in the market.”
So, in the fight to stand out amongst the crowd, what can a movie do? First, having characters that the audience can identify with and root to survive is imperative. Yawning when a character is supposed to be in grave danger does not bode well for the movie’s prospects of further engaging the audience. Second, avoid shaky cam. While this style can be used to great effect, though it rarely is, it often makes scenes confusing and hard to follow. In found footage movies, it also tends to be a way around actually showing off the ghost, demon, alien, witch, what have you. This makes both the shaky cam and found footage style come across as nothing more than a gimmick, meant to lure in fans and then never pay off what was being sold. Third, and final, thing is only to have music in your scene when there is a distinct place it is originating. Scoring a found footage movie as one would for a traditionally shot film does not work, because every found footage scene is meant to be real life, and real life doesn’t have music playing in the background, out of nowhere. It is cheating and blatant emotional manipulation that doesn’t make sense given the style of film.
Andy Fowler’s new science fiction found footage flick Aliens: Zone Of Silence, follows each bit of advice there. As such, it is one of the most visually striking and compelling found footage movies to be released in quite awhile. Morgan (Sarah Hester) sets out to find her brother, Hal (Peter Gesswein) and his friend, Alex (Jed Maheu), both of whom got lost in Zona del Silencio, a mysterious part of the Mexican desert. Hal and Alex were doing a YouTube show about the unexplained, which is why they investigated the area which is infamous for alien sightings. She finds their campsite and evidence of an alien abduction. Is the isolation driving her mad, or is there something sinister afoot?
“…visually striking and compelling.”
Due to the show the friends were filming, multiple kinds of cameras were used, some handheld, at least one GoPro, and some set for motion detection placed around the perimeter of the main camp. The editing between each kind of camera is always seamless and the action is easy to follow. The static cameras around the campsite allow for some impressive shots of the foreboding terrain and how it seems to swallow up the lead character. So much of the intensity of the movie comes from watching Morgan react to the subtlety off things happening to the camp, yet knowing no one else is remotely near her.
Given that 90% of the movie is just Morgan, Sarah Hester has a lot to shoulder and does an admirable job. Her portrayal of the grieving sister, determined to get to the truth is believable and empathetic. Gesswein, as her brother, conveys a sense of fun that makes the popularity of his YouTube show make sense. The few other people in the cast do an excellent job as well.
While there is a lot of great in Aliens: Zone Of Silence, the ending does leave a rather massive plot hole. How were the various clips filmed by the characters stitched together and presented to the audience? Seeing what happens to Morgan throws this question into the forefront, and while the ending is surprising, it does not make a ton of sense.
Aliens: Zone Of Silence might have a big plot hole due to the ending, but the characters are likable, the acting is superb, and the movie looks incredible.
Aliens: Zone Of Silence (2018) Directed by Andy Fowler. Written by Andy Fowler, Fidel Arizmendi. Starring Sarah Hester, Peter Gesswein, Jed Maheu, Vince Tula, Henry Baring-Fowler.