Found Footage Horror: The Before Time

Mike reviews the latest found footage nightmare, The Before Time, out this week on VOD. 

Did we remember to save some
of that peyote for the audience?!

The found footage subgenre of horror is both wildly popular and tricky to get right.  Such films are prevalent because they're generally inexpensive to produce (shot with handheld cameras, no distracting major stars) and have an added element of tension that traditional horror sometimes lacks.  When it works, and has imaginative filmmakers behind it, it can result in a fun and well-made horror film (the original Blair Witch Project, [REC], Unfriended).  Unfortunately these are rare cases, and the result is usually a boring, unimaginative film that tries and fails to hide behind a tiresome trope.  The new release The Before Time certainly belongs in the latter category.

In The Before Time, a sleazy producer brings together two rival news crews to create a new reality show.  The show would have the combined crew venture into the California desert in search of legendary Navajo gold.  As the crew makes its way into the desert, they begin to learn the truth about the legend, and about the mysterious murders that occurred there just weeks before.  The film is presented as footage shot by the crews assembled to create a narrative that shifts from tension within the crews to a genuine fear of their creepy and desolate surroundings.  Somehow this tension never really carries over to the audience, and the whole affair ends up a bit dull.

This machete reboot looks terrible!
There are splashes of creativity few and far between in The Before Time.  If you blink you might miss them though, as they're a bit hard to spot in what is otherwise essentially a Blair Witch Project ripoff.  But what made Blair Witch work—or rather, how they used the found footage trope effectively—was not so much making you believe that what you were watching was real so much as creating relatable moments of fear and tension, giving the audience an opportunity to imagine themselves in that situation.  Nothing in The Before Time feels remotely close to this.  Instead, found footage is used the way it is used in so many horror films these days: to attempt and fail to mask a film that isn't very good to begin with.

The Before Time is just another failed found footage horror film, serving to clog any remaining market these films may have with more unwelcome mediocrity.  Found footage can be a great technique if used in a clever or interesting way that enhances and already compelling story.  The filmmakers behind The Before Time have not managed to figure that out.  Horror film fans would be better served to skip this one and hold out for a more compelling, better quality found footage film.  Or perhaps they can just watch Blair Witch again.

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-Mike Stec