Harry Situation Reviews: The Blair Witch Project
Happy Halloween everyone! And what better way to celebrate one of the best holidays of the year is to review a horror movie. I think it's high time that I reviewed this Halloween classic.
The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 found footage horror film directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. The story centers around three amateur film students who embark on quest to film a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local legend of a malevolent ghost that is said to haunt the Black Hills woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. The three become lost and find themselves hunted by the very being they were trying to document. They disappeared and what we the audience see is supposedly what they filmed that may clue in on their fates and the terror of the Blair Witch.
What can be said about this film that hasn't been said before? The Blair Witch Project was the film that was the grandfather of all found footage films, helping kickstart the subgenre that would lead into films such as Cloverfield, Quarantine, and of course Paranormal Activity. Obviously, it wasn't the first found footage flick ever made. Cannibal Holocaust actually had that beat by about a decade earlier. But it certainly was the one that helped cement the subgenre into existence.
Over the years people have been pretty divisive on this film. Some love it, other hate it. Some praise it as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, while others call it a shaky cam mess. So, what's my opinion on one of the foundations of found footage?
The first positive I got to give is the atmosphere. The woods can be a creepy setting and this film turns the creep factor up to eleven. There's a ton of footage during the daytime while the characters are wandering around lost and it's pretty spooky. There's a ton of footage during the night where you hear strange noises and you're not sure what that is, much like the characters themselves, and it's spooky. The biggest criticism I've heard people say against this movie is that you never see the actual Blair Witch on screen. When the cast were running out of their tents there's a moment where Heather screams, "What the fuck was that?!?", indicating that she saw something, but it isn't very clear. Originally the camera was supposed to film a brief scene where you can see a figure hovering in the air, most likely the Blair Witch. The shot wasn't clear enough and it was too dark to tell, yet the filmmakers kept it in the final production. Personally, I don't see that being a problem. It's unknown and the unknown is terrifying. Not knowing or not seeing something is far scarier than throwing something on screen. It allows your mind to play tricks on you and come up with your own imagination to what Heather may have saw. Maybe she did see something. Maybe she didn't. We'll never know, and that's what makes it scary. It's something that adds a layer of unease to the movie.
The film also had one of the best marketing gimmicks ever composed. This was one of the first films to use transmedia storytelling. What is transmedia storytelling, you ask. This is when you use multiple forms of media to tell a larger story. Before its release, The Blair Witch Project had a website that contained a ton of lore about the Blair Witch and the town of Burkittsvile. Keep in mind that this is all fabricated for the sake of good fiction, but you couldn't tell that during the late 90s. They also came up with a couple of fictional documentaries to further build on the legend of the Blair Witch. One of them, which is more relevant to what happens in the movie, is The Burkittsville Seven. This is a fictional true crime documentary about the disappearance and murders of seven children in the 1940s. According to the lore an old hermit named Rustin Parr took these children to his house in the middle of the Black Hills woods and killed them one by one. As he was doing the killings, he had one of the children face the corner of the room and ordered him not to look at him. When he was arrested, he confessed to the murders and said that a voice in his head (i.e., the Blair Witch) kept telling him to do it or else it wouldn't leave him alone.
This leads to what makes the movie work: the sense of realism. All the outside material helped heightened the lore and realism. And when you're watching the film, seeing everything play out, it all feels very real. Much of the dialogue was all improvised. Only a small percentage of the film is scripted, which makes me wonder which parts were scripted. When the actors are freaking out or cussing at each other, they really are doing that. The camera they use isn't high tech like a Hollywood camera. It's more or less your basic home video camera. It's shot with poor quality, and it looks amateurish because it was meant to look like that. These three characters aren't professionals. So, the way the movie was put together looks unprofessional, but it also looks very real.
Now some might not think this is appealing or entertaining, and I get that. However, I feel that this works in the film's favor. I feel that many found footage films seem to forget that aspect. They forgot to make them feel real. Nowadays they feel too Hollywood with all the better-quality cameras and visual effects. The Blair Witch Project had none of that, making for a much more grounded and believable experience. I wouldn't be surprised with there were some people back in 1999 who thought the film was real only to find out later that it's complete fiction.
Of course, I gotta talk about the climax and ending of the film because that's what everyone seems to remember most about it. I have to say it is arguably one of the best endings for a horror film too. Everyone who has seen this film know what I'm talking about but if you haven't seen it obviously, I'm gonna discuss the ending. So, spoiler alert. Skip ahead to the next paragraph or so if you don't want to be spoiled by the ending.
Moving forward, towards the end, one of the friends, Josh, suddenly goes missing. Both Heather and Mike are unsure what happened, as with the rest of the audience. What they do find is a piece of Josh's clothing bundled together. They open it to find the only bit of gore in this movie: blood, some teeth, and, I think, a piece of an organ but I'm not sure of what though. This is the 'shit just got real' moment of the movie. This also leads to the famous scene where Heather is talking to the camera and it's a close up shot of her eyes and that ugly ass snot bubble that's leaking from her nose.
After hearing what sounds like Josh being tortured, Heather and Mike come across a large, old, decaying house in the middle of the woods, likely the house that belonged to the aforementioned Rustin Parr. The pair go in only to find bloody handprints of children decorating the walls. Eventually they get separated with Mike getting attacked by something offscreen. Heather makes her way to the basement to find Mike standing at the corner of the room until she is attacked from behind and the camera stops filming, leading to the end credits. It's one of the most memorable and suspenseful endings to a horror film I've seen in decades.
Personally, my biggest criticism against the film are the characters. Now the actors aren't bad at all. It's just there is stuff they're characters say and do that doesn't exactly make me feel sorry for them. Much of the movie they spend time yelling at each other and blaming each other for getting lost. Now, this does make it very believable and would look like a realistic scenario that real friends would do in a situation like this. However, it makes it a little grating to sit and watch them argue and cuss at each other over and over again. Also, everything that starts happening to them is mainly their fault. One example is when the trio are lost in the woods and argue amongst themselves because their map goes missing. Then Mike reveals he kicked the map out of frustration. Not to mention after the trio encounters the stick figures in the woods, it is later revealed that Heather took on of the stick figures. Why? I'm not sure and we never see Heather take one of these figurines or see a figurine in her bag that validate what they're saying. But let's just say things escalate from bad to worse when she did this. Honestly, they did this to themselves and what happens to them is kind of their characters fault.
Overall, I can see why The Blair Witch Project is regarded as one of the most memorable horror films to come out of the past two decades. Now I wouldn't say that the film scared me during my first viewing. Creeped out, sure. But I personally didn't find it scary. And sure, what doesn't scare me will probably scare others and vice versa. However, over the years I have developed a deep respect for this film. It did set the groundwork for other found footage films. It had the best marketing ploy. And it was competently well put together with what they had. And it grossed over $200 million worldwide on a $60,000 budget. So, I can definitely see why this film is highly praised and highly regarded as one of the best horror films made. I would definitely recommend giving it a watch some time just for the experience. Just make sure you don't knock over any rock piles or take any stick figurines.
Final Grade: B
So those are my thoughts on The Blair Witch Project. Have you seen it? What were your thoughts on it? Love it? Hate it? Please be kind, leave a like and comment, and have a fun and safe Halloween!
Heather Donahue: "I'm scared to close my eyes; I'm scared to open them."