More often than not, found footage horror film comes with a bad stigma. Perceived as a cheap gimmick, the audience is forced to suspend their disbelief regarding things such as camera battery life, its durability, et cetera. Whether you like them or not, they’re here to stay — because they’re relatively cheap to produce and general moviegoers eat them up (for some unfathomable reason). That being said, there’s been a push forward, integrating webcams and cell phone cameras into the mix. It adds a new angle to a wearisome sub-genre and if used effectively, can tell a story in intriguing ways.
One short immediately comes to mind, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” which is Joe Swanberg’s portion of the anthology film V/H/S. It cleverly explored the use of webcams as a means to tell its story and bring a fresh perspective to the found footage horror genre. Zachary Donohue’s The Den embraces the new technology as well, and after a rocky first act, manages to get the ball rolling, crafting a compelling horror experience.
The Den stars Melanie Papalia as Elizabeth, a grad student working on her social media studies thesis. She plans to illustrate the vast array of different people populating the net by spending a majority of her time on a service acting as the film’s Omegle equivalent, “The Den”. There she meets horny teens, drag queens, and “shock value” gags – until she stumbles across what seems like an actual murder. From there, Elizabeth’s life is turned upside down as she plunges deeper into the depths of “The Den”. Melanie Papalia gives a strong performance as the naïve Elizabeth, and the two supporting actors, David Schlachtenhaufen and Adam Shapiro do fine as the men in her life.
Any reservations you have about the “webcam/cell phone” footage and the overall story are quickly smoothed over, as the second and final act go into extremely dark territory. Zachary Donohue and co-writer Lauren Thompson manage to go beyond the found footage gimmick and craft a satisfyingly bleak horror film (with a message regarding internet safety). It’s also worth noting, that the killer(s) look like members of Slipknot (I found that very funny). In all seriousness though, it’s great to see they’re getting work!
Zachary Donohue’s The Den is out in theaters on March 14th from IFC Midnight.