The Blair Witch Project Review
By Joe Lozito
"The Blair Witch Project" is an experiment that should have gone horribly awry.
Three student filmmakers venture into the Black Hills Forest of Maryland to document the legendary "Blair Witch" myth and are never heard from again. One year later, their footage is found and spliced together to recreate what happened to them.
The brilliant conceit of "The Blair Witch Project" is that none of the above actually happened. It's all part of a backstory elaborate enough to attract the kind of cult devotion usually reserved for "The X-files" or "Star Trek".
In reality, and this is the part that should have gone wrong, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez II trained three actors - Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams - in the use of video and film cameras and sent them into the woods. The actors had only a sparse idea of what was going to happen to them and a vague outline of the plot of the film. The rest is ad-libbed. And ad-libbed brilliantly, by the way. The three actors manage not only to capture some beautiful footage but also to spout believable and consistent dialog without digressing into the standard "Scream" pop culture references.
With no special effects budget, it was up to the filmmakers (and I include the actors in this term) to create not only suspense, but terror, the old fashioned way - relying completely on the imagination. They succeed. The film spans the course of the actors' harrowing week lost in the woods. The first third of the film plays like a campfire ghost story and the attitude on screen is understandably light. However, as it becomes clear that something may in fact be out in the woods, just beyond the safety of their tiny tent, their terror becomes palpable. The approach of each night becomes more foreboding than the last as the film builds to its near-perfect climax.
Open paragraph to Hollywood: please take a cue from this film! "Blair Witch" is the complete antithesis of "The Haunting" (Hollywood's frightening attempt at horror). Watch the way that the filmmakers keep the suspense going during the seven days. Watch the variety of subtle ways that each night becomes more horrifying than the last. Watch how little there is to watch - meaning, watch the lack of apparitions, floating child-heads, and other nonsensical, non-scary special effects. It's called imagination. And it's much more frightening than anything that the folks at ILM can computer-generate.
If "The Blair Witch Project" can be faulted anything it is that it falls into one of the typical problems with the horror genre: we never learn anything about the characters. Happily, the actors do such as good job exuding fear in a way that is immediately identifiable, that the audience does wind up caring about them. However, at certain particularly horrific moments in the film, it seems unlikely at anyone would be able to carry a camera. There is an attempted explanation for this in the one scene that rings false. In response to her rabid use of the video camera even in the face of great peril, Ms. Donahue, the ostensible director of the "project", responds "it's all I have left". Still it's a forgivable concession for a movie which otherwise hits all the right notes.
Will "Blair Witch" usher in a new generation of horror films (a la "Scream")? Probably not. In fact, hopefully not. There will most likely be one or two copycat attempts, but the "Blair Witch" experience is a unique one. If all goes well, what "Blair Witch" will inspire is a new class of filmmaker - one that will turn the average independent film on its side. Now that would be scary.