Let’s talk about Marble Hornets for a second. I wasn’t sure whether to emphasize the name of a YouTube channel, since it’s not really a movie as we traditionally consider one, but Marble Hornets was/is a descendant of The Blair Witch Project (see, the title wasn’t TOTALLY clickbait) and, as such, deserves to be recognized as a film of sorts. It’s not only one of the early examples of found footage horror but also an early example of Internet viral horror. These hoaxes come along every once and a while and sometimes they’re interesting. In the case of Marble Hornets, what was most interesting was the level of dedication the creators had to establishing the eerie sense of actuality; there’s so much video content and raw information within Marble Hornets that it’s hard to tell even after seeing the first elements of horror turn up as to whether there’s a story being told.
I mention Marble Hornets also because it’s one of the few of its kind that still holds up. It’s as intriguing in its purposeful inaccessibility as it is in its unpolished, unexplained weirdness. Had the videos ended much sooner and the creators never been revealed, it would remain a effectively creepy internet mystery to this day.
In a way, this is a more potent form of horror narrative than movies like The Blair Witch Project or Unfriended, which go through the motions of being “found footage” but the audience is safely distanced by having seen trailers or even by being in a movie theatre. The Internet, though, gives filmmakers the chance to dissolve that barrier. Yet, it’s all easier said than done. The stories told this way can’t be too conventional, as obvious narrative markers are also dead giveaways. Yet at the same time, avoiding them entirely results in things like Marble Hornets, which is sometimes so unwatchable… well, let’s just say there’s a reason you might not have heard of it.
Someone ambitious is trying to strike that balance, I suspect, and they’re doing a damn fine job of it.
Several weeks ago, YouTube’s half-assed recommendation engine sent this video my way (broken clocks do work twice a day, it turns out:
At first, I was pretty put-off by Paz’s delivery. Part of the problem is her accent, but there’s also a strong melodramatic, controlled effort on display. There’s also subtle but detectable cuts. The thing about both of those observations is that they’re not unique to her channel. A lot of YouTubers, and the popular ones in particular, smooth out these imperfections now. It’s not universal but if it’s popular enough that it could simply be how Paz wants her videos to be. In fact, I specifically went and did some comparisons and it seems that YouTubers who cut vocal stumbles generally are more subscribed to than those who don’t… not that correlation is causation but it isn’t NOT either. Anyway, Paz’s style on camera is circumstantial evidence in the case of “Paz vs Fiction”.
This is compounded by the fact that many of her videos are shot pretty loosely and, if you watch enough of them, you notice that if these videos are indeed “fake”, then Paz is a good actor and has roped in quite a few people. Which is weird, because the channel has been around for EXACTLY a year and only has a thousand subscribers. It’s a surprisingly big effort with, so far, very little pay off.
If there’s one particularly damning piece of evidence in favor of the whole thing being fiction, it’s Paz’s brother “Jack.” He shows up right after the first “stalker” video and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The interaction between Paz and Jack is just a bit too heavily edited for a video that’s supposed to show their conflicting personalities, but then, all of her videos are edited to be entertaining rather than authentic so it’s still kind of hard to say.
It’s also a bit too coincidental that it’s been almost exactly a year since the channel started and today’s video really seems to be pushing the “stalker” story into the forefront.
Here’s the thing, though: even though Paz Vs Stuff isn’t quite authentic enough to fool anyone into thinking it’s real, it’s actually a really good watch, mainly because Paz is genuinely interesting and, thankfully, there’s a lot going on in the background of her videos. For example, one of the “obscure” horror titles she mentions in the first video in this post is a “fake” film! And not a fake one she made up, but one from an EXCELLENT Ramsey Campbell novel published in 1989. It seems it’s become an in joke among horror buffs to reference the film as a real thing and Paz cleverly lampshades her own metafiction by including it in her list.
So, is Paz Vs Stuff a convincing meta-horror found footage YouTube channel? Watch one episode and you might wonder. But if you keep watching, you actually won’t care anymore whether it’s real, just like any good found footage story. Start at the beginning and don’t skip any of the episodes, no matter how trivial or boring the content might seem because I get the feeling this is only the beginning…
EDIT: So I’m watching one of her older videos about her stalker and she talks about why Internet stalkers were the reason she put off making YouTube videos for so long, which I thought was odd… until I checked out her actual blog, which goes back to 2014! So, yeah, if this IS a fictional YouTube account, it’s a very dedicated one, as all the blog posts seem well written and personal and very consistent… So I’m actually starting to second guess my assumptions…