THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is now regarded as a bit of a modern horror classic and while it has it detractors, I think it’s a wonderfully spooky and clever minimalist horror. The premise is simple, in 1994 three college students travel to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary on a local legend, The Blair Witch. The witch is said to haunt the woods surrounding the town that was once called Blair and may be responsible for some bizarre deaths such as the murder of seven children whose killer claims she forced him to kill. The three students disappear and a year later their footage is found and the film is an assemblage of that footage. The filmmakers cleverly promoted the film as real and at the time, did have many fooled such as the teenage girls sitting by me in the theater back in 1999. The documentary style flick follows college film student Heather (Heather Donahue), cameraman Josh (Joshua Leonard) and sound tech Mike (Michael C. Williams) as they head into the small town interviewing the locals about the legend and some of the strange deaths that go along with it. They then hike into the woods to find and document some of the locations these horrid events were said to occur. But, something supernatural may indeed haunt these woods, as soon the three are plagued by strange noises in the night, disturbing constructs of stone and stick found about their camp when they awake and the sudden inability to find their way back out to their car. The incidents become increasingly intense and the longer the three stay lost, the more afraid they become that something is following them… and the more the three unravel and turn on each other. Is this some kind of malicious prank by some of the locals?… or are these three truly destined to become part of the Blair Witch legend.
From the premise of writers and directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s film, we know the three aren’t going to make it out of these woods and the suspense is more going along for the creepy ride to find out what happens to them. Will they fall to some supernatural horror or will they be the victims of some malevolent and very human element. It’s the anticipation that makes this work along with the increasingly strange activity that follows our doomed trio. Sánchez and Myrick give us simple noises and voices along with some unsettling found objects and let’s our imagination concoct the origin. And our imaginations can come up with things far more horrifying then anything the filmmakers could give us. The fear and increasing terror our three leads feel also draws us in. The actors successfully create the illusion of three real people and by letting them improvise a good deal of their dialog, they say things real people might say in a weird situation like they are in. This helps create the illusion that we are indeed watching actual footage and it lures us in and we share their fear while creating some of our own. By the time the film climaxes in an abandoned house in the middle of the woods, we are so on edge, that it’s simple conclusion becomes very unsettling and we leave the film shaken despite it’s subtlety. And that’s the whole aspect I like about Blair Witch is that it achieves a lot on some very subtle trigger events making our imaginations work against us. Having been in the woods at night and done some exploration of abandoned structures, I know how it feels to hear things whose origin cannot be determined and what your mind imagines as it’s cause. The film maintains an atmosphere of dread even before things start to get weird because, the premise let’s us know before the film even begins that our young protagonists are doomed and as the opening credits appear, our minds are already imagining their fates.
The film is not perfect. The acting is weak at times and the bickering can get a bit annoying and so can the characters. We do like them but, Donahue’s over confident wannabe director can be a bitch but, that is part of the character and Williams’ Mike can be a bit too much of a whiner. Leonard’s Josh is the more laid back, level headed one and the fact that he is the most likable of the three, makes it all the more effective when the unseen force seems to target him first.
All in all Blair Witch is a very spooky and effective film that gets under your skin with very little effort and while it’s not perfect, it is a damn creepy little movie if you go with it and let it convince you that what you are watching is real. It also had one of the greatest promotional campaigns in horror movie history which had you creeped out before you even bought your ticket. Sadly followed by an interesting but, very flawed sequel (click here for my review) which ditched the found footage format for a straight narrative. Another favorite of mine to watch during the Halloween season!
A solid 3 and 1/2 horrified Heathers!