Blog Directory CineVerse: The "Blair Witch" laid bare

The "Blair Witch" laid bare

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Love it or hate it, "The Blair Witch Project" has legs--meaning that it has survived past its initial hype and turn-of-the-millennium zeitgeist popularity to stand as one of the seminal "found footage" horror flicks worthy of continued study. Among the conclusions reached by our CineVerse film discussion group on this movie are the following:

This is one of the first examples of the “found footage” subgenre in which would-be documentary footage, supposedly later discovered, is presented, often shot by the actual actors and featuring a shaky handheld camera style. Whoever “found” this footage edited it together and presents it as a document of what happened to the people who originally shot it.
There is no graphic violence, very little blood/gore, no physical manifestation of a monster, witch or ghost shown, no cheap shocks/popouts, and no special effects or CGI. Instead, this is a psychological horror movie.
There is no real plot, and not much happens, other than initial interviewing of townsfolk followed by camping in the woods, getting lost in the woods, and increasing arguments between the three principals. In fact, there really aren’t that many scare scenes/shots in the entire film.
There is no music, except for the end credits, which are really just ambient/industrial-sounding noises.
The actors are all nonprofessionals and unknowns, and the film really only features three people.
The ending is abrupt, and there is no resolution: all we know is that the three college students were never found again. We don’t know if they were killed or who stalked/threatened them. We don’t learn the significance of or the providers of the remnants they discover (the twig men, the eerie bundle), and the “legend” of the Blair Witch is not demystified in any way.
It was promoted as a mysterious but real event (the disappearance of the 3 students) and it became a grassroots marketing sensation, with strong word-of-mouth bringing many viewers to the theater and helping it build a reputation as one of the scariest pictures ever made.

The movie’s verisimilitude is palpable: this looks like the most amateurish of video footage, appearing too shaky, shoddy, and off-the-cuff to be fake, choreographed or contrived. That realism is a testament to the design of the filmmakers, who allowed the actors to shoot the footage without much direction and who stayed primarily off the set to allow the performances and dialogue to unfold naturally.
o The actors weren’t faking it, either: they really were camping in the woods for days, lacking sleep, exhausted, cold, aggravated with each other, not privy to the script, and unaware of what the filmmakers were going to unleash upon them. 
The film builds tension and fright via the simplest of techniques: eerie off-screen sounds, strange things presumably happening out of the frame but nearby, brief but effective night scenes that are almost completely dark except for the camcorder light, and friction/infighting between the three lost college students, which puts each of them on edge.
o The Dissolve essayist Mike D’Angelo summed it up effectively: “The Blair Witch Project" is one of the goriest movies ever made: It’s 81 minutes of nerves being slowly shredded before your eyes. The real horror lies in watching Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard), and Mike (Michael C. Williams) gradually turn on each other as their circumstances grow bleaker, until there’s arguably no longer any need for a witch or other bogeyman to torment them. By night, the film is an unconventional horror flick... By day, on the other hand, it’s a harrowing collegiate gloss on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play "No Exit," in which three dead souls discover that their eternal punishment consists of being locked in a room with each other. The woods here are just a big, empty room, and the screaming, bickering, and blame-tossing isn’t a grating distraction from the main story. It is the main story.”
“At a time when digital techniques can show us almost anything, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can’t see. The noise is the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark,” Roger Ebert wrote in his 4-star review of the movie.
The concept of being lost, especially in the woods, as well as hunted is terrifying to many people.

Nothing much really happens: again, we aren’t shown any visible monster or supernatural threat, and we don’t know what actually happens to the three campers by the film’s conclusion. The film ends suddenly and ambiguously. 
Being that these are nonprofessional actors, the performances, dialogue and infighting—as unscripted and verite-style as they are—can be grating, irksome and tedious.
When released in 1999, the film was marketed as a true story/actual event; consequently, there was some audience backlash when nothing was explained/resolved by the film’s conclusion. Many viewers wanted to learn of the fates of the 3 students and desired a confirmation of the authenticity of the footage and the events depicted. Also, many people who were told word-of-mouth that this was a terrifying motion picture felt cheated and/or duped.
The real hubris for many is that they didn’t find it scary enough.
“The Blair Witch Project is an art film that was sold to the public as mainstream entertainment. The filmmakers tried to make it more accessible [to audiences], but there wasn’t much they could do,” D’Angelo wrote.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The Last Broadcast (1998)
The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)
REC (2007)
Cloverfield (2008)
The Paranormal Activity movies

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