“The Blair Witch Project,” released in 1999 (the year before the final “Scream”), was one of the most explosive films to ever hit theaters. Made for a paltry $22,000 and largely improvised (the unknown cast members played themselves), the film went on to gross more than $240 Million. It is currently a Guinness World Record holder for the largest movie budget-Box office ratio, grossing almost $11,000 for each dollar spent during production. It is also probably the most widely debated horror film of all time. Depending on your school of thought, it is either completely silly and a waste of time, or the most nerve-wracking film ever. There is no one I’ve come across who is lukewarm about the movie. I’m in the latter group, so I can talk with confidence about why it works (for those of us who feel that it did, of course).
“…Blair Witch” is ninety minutes of videotape shot by three young filmmakers in search of the Blair Witch in Burkittesville, Maryland. Their trek takes them into the woods, where they apparently encounter something supernatural, evil and deadly. The set up is that the tapes that comprise the movie were found a year after the filmmakers disappeared. It is fiction presented confidently (and believably) as fact.
“Blair Witch” works precisely because it avoids all of the cliches of those films that came before it (although, some would argue, it created new cliches all its own). By either design or budgetary reasons, the movie hints at horrifying events while revealing nothing to its viewers. Psychologically, it is a harrowing experience because it is all buildup with no release of tension. At its conclusion, I was fairly ambivalent about the film; by the next night, I was sleeping with my bedroom light on, something I have never done, even after watching “The Exorcist” alone at 3 A.M. when I was twelve. This is the kind of film that triggers one’s imagination which, if you think of it, can be the scariest place of all.
This kind of cinema verité, presented as a documentary, is not entirely new. “Blair Witch” was preceded by “Cannibal Holocaust” in 1980, in which disturbing footage is discovered of a missing documentary film crew. “Blair Witch” was, however, the most successful film of its type; because of this remarkably different style of storytelling, it is essentially copy-proofed. No one, for the next fifteen years at least, can make another film like it without it being an obvious knock-off and summarily dismissed (even the sequel to “The Blair Witch Project” is a more “traditional” horror movie). It is a benchmark film and, as such, should age well. To this day, I will not watch it alone.
Pros: Fresh and disturbing on several different levels. Stays with you long after it’s over.
Cons: Way too many “F” words, even for me. There is only one line of dialogue (in the film’s first half hour) that explains the chilling final scene; miss it, and you’ll be confused. Oversaturation and too many satirical pieces in the media may have diluted the film’s impact for a while.
Review Rating: 4.5 out of 5 nights it made me check the corners when I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)
86 Minutes; USA
Rated R for language, tense situations, and violence.
Heather Donahue (as herself)
Joshua Leonard (as himself)
Michael C. Williams (as himself)
Bob Griffin (Short Fisherman)
Jim King (Interviewee)
Sandra Sánchez (Waitress)
Written and Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release