Movie #76: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Mike Williams

Cannes Film Festival (1999):

Award of the Youth, Foreign Film: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez


Three amateur filmmakers shoot a documentary in Burkittesville, Maryland about The Blair Witch, a local folklore.  What started as a weekend trip ended up costing each of them their lives as they went from curious and intrigued filmmakers to terrified people just hoping to survive.

It’s been a couple of years since I saw this film, but it still creeps me out just thinking about it.  I’m not a fan of horror films, plain and simple, so even watching this movie once was a big deal.  I watched it at night of all times while living alone.  I didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights after watching this.

There are a few things that stand out about this film.  The marketing of it no doubt is something that sets it apart from most other films.  The movie itself was presented as fact: three filmmakers had been killed, and their film footage had been recovered and pieced back together nearly a year later.  The media buzz around that generated a lot of free publicity, though confusion from the audience.  I didn’t figure this was a true story, and since this was still largely a pre-digital world of film making, I found it hard to believe they would be able to piece together a relatively complete story with the film being out in the elements for so long.

Though the film spends most of the time with the three filmmakers on their trip, the beginning scenes where they’re interviewing locals told and lot and did some foreshadowing for what was to come.  I don’t remember who said it, but one of the people they interviewed hesitated for a second and more or less said they shouldn’t be doing this project.  Myrick and Sanchez also do a great job of connecting some of the things these people said with how the film ends.

Something that sets this film apart within the horror genre is the slow, gradual suspense that builds throughout the film.  Though the audience knows the end result, it’s interesting and disturbing to see how quickly the three filmmakers become more paranoid and frightful.  The scene where Heather breaks down and confesses that she thinks no one will survive is often ridiculed, but by that point in the film it almost seemed unbearable.

The Blair Witch Project adds a sense of realism in that there isn’t some knife-wielding killer or spooky ghosts or monsters popping out in the film.  There were many times throughout where that could have easily happened, but the suspense of it not happening almost had a greater impact than it these things had been used.  The amateur, low-budget camera feel also adds to it, though at times I found it a bit too stomach-wrenching.  I guess that was the desired effect though.

It has since been parodied and made fun of to the point of exhaustion.  However, The Blair Witch Project took the horror genre back from a more mainstream approach that had started nearly a decade earlier with films such as Misery and The Silence of the Lambs. It returned, I can only assume, back to a more genre specific and less mainstream film as it was in the 1970s and 80s.  Unique marketing and continued and exhausting suspense helped set The Blair Witch Project in a category all its own.  It goes without saying that the one time I watched this will be the only time.  It’s not one I would normally watch, but as a film it still impressed me.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


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