Verdict: Good enough
The Blair Witch Project is a suspense horror film written and directed by Daniel Myrick, and Eduardo Sanchez, who have both since gone onto respectable B movie careers, and stars Heather Donahue, Micheal C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, who has since gone on to a respectable acting career in projects like If I Stay and Bates Motel. The movie follows these three debut documentarians as they travel to the town formally known as Blair to investigate the mythology of the mysterious Blair Witch.
My relationship with this movie is kind of interesting because I grew up acting in my friend’s home made found footage movies but he would always tell me how shit he thought The Blair Witch Project was, how ‘not scary’ he thought it was. Since then I’ve been the one to go on to study film, so well, who’s laughing know eh? (Sorry friend I love you really). I found it interesting he didn’t like The Blair Witch Project as it popularised the genre in which he worked. In the same way that Hitchcock made the first slasher film with Psycho before John Carpenter popularised the genre with Halloween, Cannibal Holocaust may be the fist found footage movie, but this is the film that made it a force to be reckoned with. Since then I’ve had my own chance to fall in love with cinema and the visceral powers of horror movies, which this film has in spades.
The Blair Witch Project is a really really powerfully unnerving movie, maybe not scary, but chilling, which is if anything just as good. What has been said endlessly about the movie is how the power of this film comes from how real it is, how the directors left the cast out in the woods to film what the directors threw at them in the woods, (making noises at night, leaving the stick figures in the woods). What I find fascinating about the movie is not necessarily how real the style feels, the fact it’s filmed on crappy cameras, or that the scares come from a pile of rocks; but the reality in the emotional reactions. What I find really scary is the breakdown of the characters, the points where they sit on logs crying. The gradual breakdown of the characters is really well done, and it feels so visceral, maybe not scary, but unnerving, and that’s still fine. It remains the high water mark of found footage horror movies, because modern horror movies will film on a high quality film camera and ‘dirty down’ the footage to look like a handheld camera, and you can tell if you were to compare them to The Blair Witch Project which was actually shot on these low-fi cameras. The film makers also use suggestion as a method of scares expertly, whereas lesser films would show you the witch, and gore, and essentially make it a low key supernatural slasher film, this film is elevated by how much you don’t see, the iconic scene where Heather finds teeth is the only scene in the whole movie where you see any blood, just as there’s hardly any blood in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but it’s the oppressive atmosphere that gets you, the documentary style of film making. Myrick and Sanchez had about 18 hours of footage to make a film from so they had the ability to make it exactly how they wanted, and the atmosphere is expertly put together.
That’s really the selling point of this movie, it has killer atmosphere, created through induced naturalistic acting, guerrilla film making and a low fi aestetic. The sound design also deserves a mention, it may well have been accidental due to the manner in which the film was made, but it has this Eraserhead thing going on where you can hear the world in the background rumbling and infesting your ears, and it’s so subtle because you can’t tell if you actually heard the things our trio heard, which helps to reinforce the sense that they’re just loosing it. So the film has this killer atmosphere, this great sound design and it all goes towards some fantastic world building and you’re there in this world, but it’s not scary. It’s really good at being unnerving, and even disturbing in places, but I wouldn’t say it’s scary, but what it is, is a very engaging character drama of a horror film that will stay with you, and it’s a whole load of fun.