Sinister suburbs in September 1999.
It’s hard to imagine now, but found footage horror films used to have real power. There was an element of verisimilitude to The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast that made them all the more effective at getting under your skin. There hasn’t been much of note since, but 98demake’s September 1999 is the most unsettling found footage experience I’ve come across in ages. Its uncannily domestic setting feels like a real place, albeit one you’ll be desperate to get away from. In the last minute alone, roughly 80 billion free horror games have been released that use a VHS camera filter to hearken back to the ’90s, but this is the first I’ve encountered that feels more real because of it, that feels closer to photorealism with use of flickering and warping noise overlaying the screen. The 3D models and textures that comprise this dingy suburban house must be extremely high quality, while any gaps in the uncanny valley have been filled in thanks to that hefty VHS smear.
Presented as an actual reel of tape, September 1999 begins without any menu or introduction, but with the camera simply filming an empty room. Controlling that camera, you’ll explore the house a tiny bit, as unsettling sounds suggest unsightly things just off in the distance, and as jarring jump cuts gradually bring the horror closer. There’s an ending, which is as ambiguous as it is toe-curling, before the game suddenly cuts out, the tape unceremoniously switched off.
Horror is more effective when it’s presented in a matter-of-fact manner, as it is here. There are no jump scares, and no music cues to remind you that it isn’t real.
It’s not clear whether you’re the victim or villain.
Now, to send the tape off to You’ve Been Framed.