The Blair Witch Project (& Curse of the Blair Witch)
Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.
Heather's apology: destined to be one of the
most memorable film images from 1999.
After all of the allegedly scary movies released during the last four years (Scream was originally titled Scary Movie), it's nice that a truly frightening film is finally coming to theaters. The Blair Witch Project is a horror film that doesn't rely on a psycho killer or a genetically enhanced sea creature to scare you. That's right, The Blair Witch Project has no onscreen villain at all.
The concept of the film is stated in the film's opening captions: "In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. One year later, their footage was found." The entire movie is seen through the film students' cameras. There is no prologue, or epilogue, nothing to give you any indication that what you're watching isn't actually documentary footage.
Blair has a minimalist look, partly because most of the film really was shot by the actors playing the film students. And if it weren't enough that the actors shot the film, it turns out that The Blair Witch Project's directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, actually stranded the actors out in the middle of the woods and made sounds at night to scare them. They call it Method filmmaking.
"Everybody remember where we parked."
The three students are Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard, all of whom are played by actors of the same names. Heather is making a documentary about a local legend called the Blair Witch. We see a little of the footage that Heather is shooting, and her constant interjections into her interviewees' statements reveal her enthusiasm for the project. Michael and Joshua are her crew, and they have agreed to go hiking in the woods with her to film some of the sites important to the Blair Witch legend. Unfortunately, the three hikers get lost, and as the days (and nights) go by, they have more and more harrowing encounters with something in the woods.
Myrick and Sanchez also produced a mock documentary for the Sci Fi Channel entitled Curse of the Blair Witch. Curse is also notable for its ability to make you believe that you are watching an actual documentary, down to the faked forties newsreels and the cheesy (but fictional) show about witches from the seventies. Curse of the Blair Witch is required viewing, either before or after you see The Blair Witch Project -- preferably before you see the film itself, as the special provides desperately needed background information that can make tiny details significant.
"Dude, am I gonna be interviewed
by Leonard Nimoy?"
At the end of the film, one viewer seated behind us asked her companion: "So was it real or not?" This is the power that this film has: unless you've been briefed on its origin, it can fool you completely with its realism. There are no clever effects shots or contrived one-liners, merely a handful of weird happenings and some genuinely creeped-out reactions by our heroes, with whom we identify more and more. We know from the framework that they are doomed, but the movie taunts its audience with slight glimmers of hope that the threesome might emerge from the woods, only to dash those hopes and make it all the more tragic when they meet their respective ends.
Hard core horror buffs may not find The Blair Witch Project terribly frightening, and we'll admit there weren't many scenes that had us ready to jump straight up in the air, but the slow, certain manner in which evidence of an evil something in the woods comes to light is unnerving. Tell the truth: how often can a film convince you that a pile of rocks or a bundle of twigs are signs of evil at work? The point-of-view camera work puts us behind the eyes of Heather and her compatriots: lost, tired, and desperately scared. These actors went to hell and back for this movie, and we go with them.
The film's directors should be recognized for doing something truly remarkable in filmmaking: they have found a new way to make a motion picture, and the results of this immersive process are startlingly effective. We can see the Method Filmmaking copycats emerging from the Hollywood woodwork already, but the truth is that few films will be able to recapture the essence of Blair Witch, and none will surpass its novelty.