Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Surge of the Handheld Camera Technique

After receiving a monumental cult following, The Blair Witch Project (dir. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) seemed to bring this new life to cinema with the idea of using a very stand out approach to filmmaking – The handheld camera technique. What makes it so diverse from any other device horror or thriller films use is that it’s so true and unforgiving in terms of the cinematography, that the impact of realism it has on the audiences increases this sense of panic. They’re no longer receiving an establishing shot, enabling them to come to terms with their surroundings; they’re right in the point of view of the person in question. And usually if this technique is done well, the camera almost becomes like a separate person as the filmer is a character in question, recording their surroundings which means if something scares that character, the camera only picks up the aftermath leaving a feeling of insecurity as the vision is blurred puzzling the viewer as to what the camera is recording.

After TBWP, this technique seemed to die down with impact. But in 2008 a surge was created by the film Cloverfield. Introducing a whole new generation of film lovers to this way of filming, Cloverfield was critically acclaimed for the impact it created on audiences. Focusing on the idea of aliens invading Earth, Matt Reeves (the director) created huge Internet hype for this film by releasing teaser trailers but very little information. When it finally hit the screen, the result was massive. Audiences complained of nausea, headaches and anxiousness, whilst others were amazing at the detail of emotion this provided.

The homemade effect, the, what seemed to be, new technique to cinematography and the originality of the way in which a film used one camera meant audiences were captured by this sudden development and creativity. Horror films are a very predictable genre with a dedicated crowd of admirers. But for the film goers who are looking for something new, they never seemed to satisfy until now.

Rec (dir. Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, 2008) was a horror film with a difference. Not only did this become something commendable for the efforts of script writing and filming in handheld, this film was also foreign made huge in England and America purely because it scared you witless. The idea of using a camera team following fire fighters to a call from a distressed woman trapped made it all the more realistic, as you know fire fights receive calls like this on a regular basis. This is when horror fans started increasing more. This development in filming meant that the terror you gain is on such a high level, it made the genre exciting again as the outcomes weren’t predictable but unknowing. Because of the scale of popularity, obviously Hollywood were going to get in on the act. So director John Erick Dowdle made Quarantine (2008) which had exactly the same premise but in English. This somehow lost the magic of scare a touch as you didn’t have to watch the screen for subtitles, meaning you could look away. Rec was so much scarier because you had to watch to know what was going on.

What’s topped it off most recently was the release of Paranormal Activity (dir. Oren Peli, 2009) - A low budget film with huge effect on the audiences. This was demanded into cinemas in America and came over to England in November 2009 and had everybody talking. The minimal set, the realistic acting, the idea of possession and the final scene became almost too much to handle for some audience members. This used a number on CCTV cameras and a home-video camera to record the apparent bizarre happenings of Katie’s antics. So realistic to the point of believing what you were watching was true, this film made handheld camera what it is now – A marvel.

This year alone we’re seeing The Last Exorcism, Rec 2 and Paranormal Activity 2 in handheld camera slowly becoming very popular with critics and audience members because it is so successful for a horror. The feeling of the unknown, the helplessness it provides and the fact that this filming has so many imperfections and realistic qualities makes for such entertaining and awfully scary viewings.


  1. The Last Exorcism was so well made. Not mindless gore like lots of horror films, but really twisted, disturbing, make you think about life kind of movie! http://bit.ly/a15ueX