The Blair Witch Project-1999
Director-Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
Starring-Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams
Scott’s Review #761
Reviewed May 22, 2018
When a horror film “scares the viewer to death” than that film has superseded what is has intended to do since horror films are really a dime a dozen these days. Fondly remembering sitting in a crowded and very dark movie theater to see The Blair Witch Project (1999), I was left both mesmerized and clutching my seat for dear life. This film had an enormous impact on me.
The film wisely uses hand-held cameras (black and white 16mm film) and Hi-8 video, manipulating the audience into using their imaginations leading to terrifying results making the film one of the scariest horror films of the 1990’s. Sometimes what you don’t see is much more frightening than what is seen on screen.
In 1994 three college aged amateur film makers (Heather, Michael, and Joshua) decide to hike to Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a legend known as the “Blair Witch”. The witch is reportedly responsible for mysterious deaths and disappearances over the past two hundred years. They interview, wander, and joke around with each other as a sense of dread begins to develop.
According to the film the trio themselves disappear, but a year later their equipment is uncovered fully intact with the film footage able to be viewed. The 1999 film is professed to be the footage left behind by the group. Throughout the film we watch the individuals conduct interviews with the townspeople and eventually get lost in the woods at nightfall, forced to stay the night as a mysterious entity terrorizes them. Numerous creepy noises and rustlings scare the group.
In retrospect, with more insight and knowledge about the film, it may be easy for critics to dismiss The Blair Witch Project as either a hoax or a complete manipulation, but in 1999 audiences flocked to the theaters in droves as word of mouth spread. In fact, I myself saw the film twice on the big screen and was frightened equally with each viewing. More importantly, with the onset of the reality television craze the film was clever in capitalizing on this trend, so it is to be championed. Timing is everything!
In the film genre, The Blair Witch Project used buzz and word of mouth to elicit interest before the film was even released- and then the craze began. The film was highly influential to subsequent releases that also chose to utilize camcorders as their method of storytelling- think 2007’s Paranormal Activity and 2008’s Cloverfield.
Additionally, The Blair Witch Project is similar in tone to older masterpieces such as 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead- independent releases made on a shoe-string budget that became enormously successful. As with these films the camerawork was tremendously important in eliciting necessary realism.
What makes The Blair Witch Project enormously authentic is the tricks used not only on the audience, but on the cast. Reportedly the film was almost entirely improvised including dialogue and situations that the characters faced. The actors began to feel as if events they were supposed to act were actually happening- their map disappeared and noises were created to frighten them. This clever approach to Method acting elicited the perfect responses from all involved- especially as they got colder and hungrier and more desperate.
My concern is how well 1999’s The Blair Witch Project will hold up as the years pass. Phenomenally effective and tremendously profitable at the time, dozens of imitations have arisen since the films idea was novel. So much so that it makes the original idea seem dated. One thing remains true- the film gave the horror genre a much needed breathe of fresh air and influenced many films to come.