The Blair Witch Project (1999)

“In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.”

…thus begins The Blair Witch Project, comparatively one of the most successful horror films of all time. Chances are you’ve heard the plot; three aspiring filmmakers venture into the Burkittsville woods to attempt to document the mythology of the Blair Witch, and get royally screwed over in the process. It’s simplicity at its finest.

Though the idea of ‘found documentation’ is hardly new, having been a fairly common technique in classic literary gothic horror, newbie directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez cleverly marketed the film to take advantage of the supposed “truth” of the events depicted within it. The resulting furore catapulted BWP into the spotlight, generating all sorts of hype; something that can arguably make or break a film.

Fortunately in The Blair Witch Project’s case, it doesn’t let us down. Myrick and Sánchez have crafted a film that is an exercise in restraint, steadily ramping up the tension throughout the film’s 81-minute runtime to climax with a simplistically chilling finale.

Superficially, being a ‘faux documentary’, it’s a very raw film. It contains no postproduction effects and no soundtrack, instead relying on the performances of the actors and the editing to carry it along. It goes a long way in proving the old adage that ‘less is more’; allowing the audience’s imagination to run riot in such a way that few modern horror films do.

Thanks to the (somewhat dubious) methods employed by Sánchez and Myrick, the performances by the trio of protagonists (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams, each using their real names) are distressingly realistic. Armed with only a vague outline of the scenes that occur within the film, the actors were left to their own devices to improvise dialogue. Whilst seeming somewhat artificial at certain moments (mainly during the day scenes), the choice to give them so much freedom shines through at night, during which the crew did their best to frighten the crap out of them. Without any prior knowledge of what the directors had planned, their reactions were entirely genuine. Of course, one could argue that in which case they weren’t ‘acting’ as such, more ‘reacting’…but what’re two letters between friends?

Occasionally the editing can make the whole film seem a little disjointed, somehow; it seems that the characters’ inevitable fall-out happens a little sooner than it should. However, with the fact that Myrick and Sánchez filmed The Blair Witch Project with the intention of mocking up the footage for a documentary in mind, to a certain extent normal filmic conventions don’t apply as much in this case. What is important is that the discord occurred; not necessarily how.

My only real criticism with The Blair Witch Project is the fact that it’ll never have quite the same impact as it had upon first viewing. Similar to 2009’s Paranormal Activity, when darkness fell, I found myself analysing every frame of the screen, anxiously waiting for something to jump into frame. However, having sat through it once and having become familiar with it, these scenes don’t quite pack the same punch as they once did. Nevertheless, The Blair Witch Project is a fantastic horror film that just goes to show how little is needed to terrify the pants off of you.

And make sure to watch it alone.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

One Comment on “The Blair Witch Project”

  1. Rag says:

    Sadly, I disagree… a lot!

    I was hugely dissapointed by this film. Maybe I was expecting too much from the hype. But I walked out with a ‘Jeez… Was that it?’ feeling.

    Yes, it did have some good points. I’m all up for new film makers breaking into the industry with innovative, low budget films. And it was both innovative (as far as I know it was the first ‘camcorder’ film to hit the mainstream, and the viral web promotion was genius) and it was done on a shoestring. But for me those were the only highlights.

    Yes, there were inovative elements to the films production (minimal scripting, running round in the woods being spooky to creep out the actors, ect), but I go to a film to be entertained. Not to marvel at the effects they managed to achieve by traumatising the cast. And on this level it failed.

    Yes, there were some creepy moments. But nothing that hasn’t been done better innumerable times (need I say hitchcock? And you can’t claim it was effects that made his films). But the pathetic, incessant whinging really got on my nerves. That combined with the unrealistic stupidity, that put ‘don’t go into the cellar’ moments to shame (I refer you to the ‘this map is useless’ moment), really turned me right off this film.

    Harsh, maybe. Justified, I’d like to think so.

    My advice? Go watch something else instead. Hell, I even enjoyed Cloverfield more.

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