Do you know what is a great horror film? The Blair Witch Project. I am a little tired of people saying that it isn’t a good film. To what standards is it not a good film? Is it due to it not have the stereotypical jump scares that people are used to seeing? Or over the top violins to warn us of an approaching scare? This is a film that had a better marketing campaign than any other horror film in recent memory. So, without any further ado, let’s get into the review and let me explain how and why The Blair Witch Project is far better than you remember.
Three student filmmakers film a documentary about a witch from a nearby town, after a successful day, filming in the small town, they need to one night filming in the woods where a lot of the deaths and mysteries seem to have occurred. Forced to stay for longer Heather (Heather Donohue) Mike (Michael C Williams) and Josh (Joshua Leonard) are stuck in the woods, going further in and getting more and more lost as days turn into nights.
We have a fantastic concept that works for 81 glorious minutes. With a 35-page plotline to go through, we have three actors who are tremendous at improvisation. The uneasy relationship between Heather and the guys is there from the start. You have the feeling that although Heather and Josh know each other, that they are not the greatest of acquaintances and are not working on this project by choice.
With Mike, we know he and Josh have a friendship, but he has no relationship with Heather. For the first act, we get to see the characters slowly lose this unease and relax around each other (even if Mike and Josh are not fully committed to Heather’s documentary). There dynamic as the film continues is so refreshing that you fall into the film. Heather and Josh are constantly at odds after the second day. By the end of the film, the trauma of their journey has brought Mike and Heather together. Total strangers to one another previously closer than Mike and Josh were at the beginning.
The improv of the cast works so well with little moments shared between the three. Not only with our three leads, but also from non-actors interviewed in the village at the beginning of the film. Some people were planted for the team to film, yet the best is the actual townspeople, who play along. These three are so game for anything that when events begin to turn against them, their ever-evolving and changing dynamic feels authentic.
It is the small things that work the best in The Blair Witch Project, with subtle additions spread throughout. We witness their spirit decline as their desperation increase. People argue that little happens in the film, but it is the small aspects of the entire piece that makes the film work. We have creepy, unsettling moments that we know at one point the something big is going to happen and that is when we get to the house.
The best foreshadowing of the film is not only the stories shared to us from the interviewees. It is when Heather focuses on the car as they walk away to begin filming in the woods. We step further and further away, knowing they are never going to return, it is grim. These three do not know what is happening and are especially in some difficulty as they left a water bottle on the top of the car…
Want to know how effective The Blair Witch Project was? Anyone who went camping for the next 20 years and would struggle to sleep would automatically think that something ominous was outside their tent. When I was a teenager and long after I found out it was just a film (the marketing was effective) I prayed that there would not be a pile of rocks outside my tent or stickmen. (If you were exceptionally cruel as a friend you would do it to other tents though and here the curses when the tent is open. Oh, the days. None the less, camping changed a little after this release.
That ending is what drives a lot of the negativity. But to me, it is the perfect ending. Do we need to see what happened to Heather and Mike? He is standing in the corner, not responding to Heather, which is truly terrifying in their scenario. Could we maybe have had a few seconds longer to hold on that moment? Sure, in hindsight, but that ending works. We are wondering what the hell is going on and left to think of what happened.
This is an integral aspect of The Blair Witch Project that gets lost to some. We think we see far more than what we do. The directors allowed us as an audience to ponder on those last shots, who did it? Was it the Elly Kedward? Was it even Josh? Remember the Blair Witch never killed, she had someone else do the deeds for her, much like she did for Rustin Parr decades previously. Could it have also have been Josh and Mike to scare/kill Heather? They were getting frustrated with Heather and always seemed to be off. There are so many questions that we allow our minds to go to that the open-ended nature of the finale becomes a fun theory discussion.
What made The Blair Witch Project work so well, in the end, is how real it felt to audiences at the time. The Internet was still in its infancy, but theories flooded it at the time. I remember seeing it via a pirated copy because I was too young to go to the cinema and absolutely everything felt real. Because of how the film looked and sounded, it felt real. You were shocked. Did we want to see the witch? The guerrilla filming and realistic characters throughout the film drove how this could potentially have happened.
In an era of below-par slashers and Meta horror, the genre was really on its knees. It needed something fresh and the rarely used found footage documentary style would be perfect. Directors Myrick and Sanchez made a film from nothing and forged brilliance. We all know the marketing behind the film, the website and the posters, but the effectiveness of their fake documentaries are what drive the film to another level becoming the Sci-Fi channels most-watched special at the time of its history. People were lapping up anything and everything to do with this film and without a doubt they pulled it off.
The Blair Witch Project ushered in a rush of found footage films, though do any compare? For a start, there are too many found-footage forgets the most important aspect of the sub-genre. It is meant to be found footage and for everything we see in those films, we almost have a finale that forces the camera to the ground. It always felt cheap as The Blair Witch Project did this first and in such a better way. For example, Paranormal Activity made sense, its camera was found with Micah’s body (sorry for the spoiler), yet the further into the franchise the reasoning and of obtaining the footage became a tad more difficult. For PA2 who got that footage of all of the security cameras and some of the camera? Once we add in security footage the entire concept becomes a tad sketchy.
This is why two simple cameras used to film a documentary works far more than anything you could imagine. The shots are not clean, we miss things that the students see. For example, when the three-run from their tent Heather screams at what she is seeing, but on her camera, she never got good enough footage of what she was seeing (the directors where they’re at the side trying to scare them).
The simple use of audio also creates a sense of panic and dread. When Heather is in the house looking for Josh and also Mike we can see her 16mm camera but her vocals are so far away. This is because only the RCA HI8 Camcorder was picking up audio. This effect makes her seem so far away from the audience even If we see her. If her fate is sealed and she is already too far away from Mike to safe him or herself. It is a great touch to a thrilling finale.
Judge me for the five stars, I do not care, to be the The Blair Witch Project was and still is one of the best horrors to ever be made. Its influence on the horror genre went far and wide and is still felt today, even outside of horror. Most importantly, it scared me when I first watched it and it is still effective today. An all-time classic film.
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