#230 The Blair Witch Project

(1999, Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)

“We’re gonna die out here!”

It’s Halloween, which means that yet again I am here to review a horror movie. I already reviewed Halloween itself last year, so I feel that this year I should take a look at another flavour of horror movie, away from the slasher flick. After reviewing Paranormal Activity ages ago, I feel it’s a good time to look at the movie that helped really bring the found footage genre into the mainstream – The Blair Witch Project.

The movie presents itself as the lost footage of a group of student filmmakers who went missing in the woods in October 1994. The students, Heather, Mike and Josh (guess which actors played which character!) were investigating the legend of the Blair Witch, a ghost story in the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. The movie tracks their progress as they lose their way in the woods and increasingly weird things begin to happen to them.

I’m rather interested in the found footage genre, and yet I’d never watched this before, so I was definitely curious about the quality of this movie. I’d heard a mixture of opinions, from those who felt that it was one of the scariest movies ever to those who felt it was the dumbest ninety minutes of their life.

I really wanted to like The Blair Witch Project, but throughout I couldn’t help but compare it to the YouTube series, Marble Hornets, about the ever-twisting tale of a group of student filmmakers who came in contact with a mysterious entity known as the Slender Man. It’s a similar setup – a student film summons supernatural mystery, and everything’s told through the videotapes taken by the characters. There are also a lot of trees.

The fundamental difference between the two is that I feel that Marble Hornets is very good, while The Blair Witch Project is rather average. It’s a movie with great ideas but it never really follows through on any of them.

For a start, it’s hard to feel scared by anything in the movie. Everything feels incredibly vague, and while Paranormal Activity did this well, Blair Witch struggles to do the same. Despite how often the characters shout that they can hear or see things, the viewer typically hears or sees nothing. Every time Heather shouted “did you guys hear that?” I would simply think “no, I didn’t, what are you talking about?” and there was one particular shot where the camera pans to a tree and a character shouts “what the fuck is that?!” when it’s obviously a tree.

Where Marble Hornets does this better is that it will often place vague things in the background or make use of video glitches, rather than characters pointing. The viewer ends up thinking “what is that?!” all on their own, without the series needing to point at things.

The plot is also incredibly muddled in The Blair Witch Project. Much of the movie consists of three people lost in the woods, and more running time is dedicated to the trio arguing amongst themselves about whose fault it is they’re lost in the woods rather than actual spooky things happening. What’s worse, many of these arguments can feel repetitive to the point where they became silly. There really is something ridiculous about a character trying to be reassuring by saying “THIS IS AMERICA!”, and it’s even more ridiculous when they say it three or four times.

It also feels incredibly improvised, which it was, and it’s understandable why it was done this way, but overall, it does make things feel somewhat directionless. Foreshadowing is clumsy, if it’s there at all, and some things remain unexplained in a way that’s more frustrating than mysterious. There’s also so little tension running throughout the movie, and more often than not, it’s hard to tell what you’re actually looking at.

Sadly, this lack of direction and shaky, incomprehensible cinematography make Blair Witch feel like it’s just kind of there, being neither outwardly good nor bad.

However, I can’t hate The Blair Witch Project. Its central ideas are sound, its willingness to experiment made it stand out and be an influence for much greater projects. While Marble Hornets manages to do both plot and general spookiness better (with even fewer resources, since it’s an amateur web series), it probably wouldn’t exist without the foundations laid by Blair Witch.

So, ultimately, Blair Witch is very influential and has some great ideas, but isn’t really that good as a stand-alone film.

Starring Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams & Joshua Leonard
Written by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
Produced by Robin Howie & Gregg Hale
Cinematography by Neal Fredericks
Edited by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez

Favourite Scene: The interviews at the beginning were actually pretty good at setting up some tension.
Scene That Bugged Me: “What the fuck is that?!” – it’s a whole lot of nothing!

Watch it if: You want to see the rise of the found footage genre
Avoid it if: There are better found footage productions available to you

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Posted on October 31, 2013, in 1990s, Horror, Mockumentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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