The Pros and Cons of a Found Footage ‘Friday the 13th’
Here’s the deal: I don’t want a “Friday the 13th” film with a found footage angle. In fact, I’m really hoping that the rumor of a “F13” film set during a snowstorm comes true. The idea of Jason Voorhees leaving a bloody path of destruction against a crisp white backdrop sounds like an aesthetically wonderful concept.
But in a year’s time we might be looking at the first found footage entry in the “Friday the 13th” series. The rumors and speculation just seem to be mounting at this point and, with a sense of finality, I have to wonder if it would really be so bad? So I decided to play the Devil’s Advocate and try to rationalize why a found footage “Friday the 13th” would make sense.
The use of found footage is often a story-telling device designed to ease production costs and create immersion. But it’s essentially a gimmick that has proven to be really, really, popular. And, if we’re to be completely honest with ourselves, the “F13” series is no stranger to utilizing gimmicks. In fact, the very first film was based on a popular gimmick that was perforating through Hollywood at the time. After the success of “Halloween”, every studio wanted their own holiday-themed horror movie. “Friday the 13th” was born from that concept, but thankfully, it proved to be more than a cash-in and was a quality product.
A few years later the series would cash in on another gimmick with “Friday the 13 3-D”, then again by having Jason take Manhattan, and eventually they explored the final frontier of gimmicks: space. Point is, the series has always been comfortable with doing something weird and different to draw in an audience. It’s almost a tradition at this point and, really, a big part of the series’ charm.
However, just because “Friday the 13th” has committed to dumb ideas in the past doesn’t mean it should continue too. The most recent remake offered a clean break from the escalating absurdity by returning Jason to a more visceral state of mind. It would be a mistake to back-pedal now and rely on a gimmick to ensure a quick buck. The success of the 2009 remake shows that the franchise is profitable without having to use a crux. But, I’m supposed to be defending found footage, so let’s get back on track.
While the 2009 reboot was profitable, it could be argued that the profit margin was rather slim by today’s successful horror film standards and that doesn’t bode well for a franchise’s longevity. When you have films like “The Conjuring” and “Paranormal Activity” easily hitting the $100 million mark, studios start to expect a bigger bang out of their more marketable horror films. There’s no reason that an iconic franchise like “Friday the 13th” can’t achieve those high figures. And, in order to enhance their odds of success, studios are using the new micro-budget style of production which often utilizes found footage filmmaking.
Of course, in order for this to make sense, you would have to ignore the fact that found footage films seem to be on a decline in terms of profitability. This year saw a harsh box office failure in the form of “The Devil’s Due” which only eked out a tiny sum of $15 million despite a strong marketing push. Even Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity” series has seen a sharp decrease in ticket sales with the latest entry only grossing $32 million. Only five found footage projects have been more profitable than the “Friday the 13th” remake and the last film to out gross it was “Paranormal Activity 3” in 2011. But maybe there’s a valid reason for the approach that extends beyond the dollar bill.
At this point, we know nothing about what the next film might be about. If there’s a solid story-centric reason for there to be found footage involved, then I believe it’s a perfectly acceptable way to deliver a narrative. Found footage works best when it’s not simply a gimmick, but a device used to convey a story that wouldn’t have as much impact if it were told using traditional means. Examples of this include “The Tunnel” or “Chronicle”, where the use of found footage is natural and interwoven into the plot. If “Friday the 13th” were to employ a similar logic to its new film, I could accept it as a one-time entry.
However, one time is all I could honestly endure. The things that make “Friday the 13th” what it is don’t typically work in a found footage setting. How would you get the classic stalking scenes from Jason’s POV? Strap a camera to his mask? How about the gore and violence? Usually those shots are fixed so that the audience can absorb all the details and see the fantastic practical effects in play. Found footage tends to be more erratic and fast paced. These are elements that need room to breathe and found footage can be suffocating and disorienting at times.
At the end of the day, all I want is another “Friday the 13th” film. Perhaps this film won’t be the one I want, but if it’s successful, then there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll get another film and we won’t be left with a five year drought like we just had. And, if “Friday the 13th” holds true to its nature, future films will likely swing back around to a more familiar formula. I just hope the franchise won’t dwindle and die out again before then.