The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I Could Help You, But I’d Rather Stand Here and Record.

I felt like my October Horrorthon wouldn’t be truly complete if I neglected to review today’s movie.  I didn’t feel it stood up enough to be considered a classic, but it certainly was a trendsetter.  It may not have been the first found footage movie, but it is probably the most notable one, and the one that started the trend by doing it so successfully.  Of course, it also did it by convincing the bulk of the world that it was real for a while, which I usually get irritated by since the movie assumes the audience is stupid.  Then I get more irritated that they were mostly right.  Well, it’s been a really long time since I last watched the movie, and I’m interested in finding out how it holds up.  And that’s why I decided to watch The Blair Witch Project, written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, and starring Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams.

Three would-be filmmakers – Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams – set out to film a documentary about a local legend to the town of Burkittsville, Maryland called the Blair Witch, and also about Rustin Parr, a hermit who kidnapped and killed seven children in the 1940s.  After they interview a few people in town, they set out on their camping trip into the woods.  While in the woods, they film a few scenes at landmarks where different murders were reported to have happened, most of which happened allegedly under the guidance of the spirit of Elly Kedward, a witch who hanged in the 18th century.  They also come across what appears to be a cemetery with seven small cairns in it, one of which is accidentally disturbed by one of the filmmakers.  The next day – because they let the woman control the map – they realize they are all lost.  The rest of the movie is a lot of bickering, whining, and staring up some chick’s nose.

When this movie was first released, I remember being quite taken with it.  I thought it was an interesting idea and a great way to help the audience suspend their disbelief so that they could believe this stuff was actually happening.  And in some instances, people actually did think this was happening.  I didn’t go nearly that far, but I was able to get into the movie because of that.  Watching it today, after having seen so many found footage movies since this one, I became more focused on the fact that nothing was happening.  It really is just three kids fucking around in a forest for a few days until they probably die, but we wouldn’t really know that because all we see of death in the movie is two cameras falling over.  This method is, on one hand, boring.  But on the other hand, it’s letting our imagination fill in the blanks, which can sometimes be scarier.  The story of this movie gets hardly any credit.  The story could be summed up as, “Three kids get lost in the woods.  Then probably die.”  I should not be able to do that with the entire plot of your movie.   And the dialogue certainly doesn’t get much credit because it was mostly improvised.  I would say one thing about the movie though: I liked that they actually have a fairly good and psychological reason for why this chick is filming everything.  They mention in the movie that she continues to film things because it allows her to psychologically disassociate herself with what’s happening, as if she’s just watching it on TV or something.  A lot of found footage movies forget to have decent reasons to film everything nowadays.

I realized (or more accurately, remembered) my own silliness while watching this movie.  I had purchased this movie on BluRay.  That is a gross misuse of the technology.  This movie is filmed with a hand-cranked camera.  It’s like the Errol Flynn Robin Hood movie from the 1930s being on BluRay (which it is).  Maybe I bought it thinking that the higher resolution would allow me to see something that was super small and hidden in the background.  This would also be ridiculous because this movie doesn’t even bother to have anything happen on camera, let alone in the background.  The movie is basically a bunch of trees and three kids’ faces.  The scariest thing in the movie is a guy in time out, with his nose in the corner because he didn’t want to finish his Brussels sprouts.  And I wasn’t timing, but I think at least 15 minutes of this movie is a purely black screen, occasionally interrupted by a nondescript gray, blurry mass and the breathing of scared people.  The most memorable scene in this movie is also potentially one of the most mocked scenes in cinema history, and it’s still pretty laughable.  Everyone probably knows that it’s the scene where we stare up a chick’s nose as she apologizes for getting two people killed with her shitty sense of direction.

I guess I’d say that the performances in this movie were good enough, but I didn’t like the characters.  A lot of their performances just involved them acting really scared all the time.  They were able to run through the woods shrieking well enough.  But I also didn’t like them at people because I know people like this and I hate them.  Most people would disagree with me, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was the funniest person in the world.  I know you’re all shouting at your computer screens about how hilarious I am, but it’s probably true.  There has to be a few people funnier than me.  I like to keep myself humble.  I lost track of my point …  Oh yeah!  So these people remind me of people that say a lot of things because they are under the assumption that they are hilarious, and they may even be regarded as such by their group of friends that don’t know any better, but they may be the exact opposite of funny.  I usually overhear these people in malls or stores, and they’re usually between the ages of 16 and 18.  I can’t really blame these people because I’m pretty sure I thought I was a lot funnier than I was at that age as well, but they won’t get any better if people don’t let them know that their attempts at comedy are ultimately failing.  Most of what these three people say and do before they start getting all scared reminds me of this.  And if they didn’t remind me of children before getting scared, their fear devolves them into even bigger children pretty quickly.  There was actually one part of the movie where the girl gets all bitchy about her compass and tells the guy, “If you wanted a compass, you should’ve bought a compass.”  The only way to follow up that sentence is with, “Then you’re not my best friend and you’re not coming to my birthday party anymore.”  Well they all seem to die, so I’m satisfied.

The amount of crap I slung at the Blair Witch Project in my review may have been misleading.  I don’t think this is a bad movie; I just don’t think it’s aged well.  When it came out, I remember loving it.  But since then, I’ve seen too many better-made found footage movies, and even some that actually have things happening on camera in them.  Looking at it now, there’s next to no story, it’s grainy and ugly to look at, and the performances get on my nerves.  All that being said, I still think this movie deserves a little bit of respect for making the found footage genre that is a guilty pleasure for me a mainstream genre.  …But you can still probably skip it.  The Blair Witch Project gets “I tell you guys: two more hours.  Max.” out of “I agreed to a scouted-out project!”

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