The Blair Witch Project
“I could help you, but I’d rather stand here and record.”
I went to this movie fully prepared to hate it. A friend of mine went while it was still new and told me that it was one of the worst movies he had seen in a long time. He felt like he had been victim to the biggest hoax in film history. Like the filmmakers should have come out afterwards and said, “Now you know the secret: It sucks. Don’t tell anybody.” Another friend said that she walked out because the camerawork was making her sick. Yet another friend (who has to remain nameless for obvious reasons…not that I tell my friends’ names too often–wouldn’t want anyone to find out that I don’t really have any) got ahold of a bootlegged copy. He and his wife thought it was crap. Then again, they also own a copy of The Cutting Edge.
Then I had some friends who loved it. They told me that I needed to see it in a big theatre, even though it seemed like more of a small venue flick to me. So I figured I’d go see it before it came out on video on Oct. 22 (!!!!). I also figured that I wouldn’t pay full price for it. I thought, go to a popular theatre for a popular movie around the time that school was getting out. There’ll be lots of people there.
I figured wrong. I was the only one there until about two minutes into the previews. Then about five other people trickled in. Didn’t hurt the movie at all, though. But more on that later.
I’d better warn you right now, there may be some small spoilers in this review. I tried to not give out too much info, but it’s hard to say what I want to without giving some. I don’t tell what happens at the end or anything like that, but be forewarned.
In case you’ve been living under a small pile of rocks, The Blair Witch Project is about three college students who went into the woods outside of Burkittesville, Maryland a few years back to make a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. They lost their way. Chaos and death ensued. A year later someone found their footage and pieced what happened together.
That’s what the press release and website and tie-in Sci-Fi Channel documentary said. (Was this a ready-made hit? Can I use some more hyphens?) What actually happened was that a couple of film students came up with an idea, hired some unknown actors, threw them in the woods with cameras and had them ad-lib horror and death while the filmmakers screwed with them. Not as original an idea as we all thought (it was used previously in the infamous Cannibal Holocaust which I have yet to see and another flick mentioned in Entertainment Weekly a few months back. The producers of that film, I think, were thinking about suing), but it still worked.
I think the backlash came because people saw it after the truth came out that it was just a movie. (The hype is what really separates it from its predecessors.) It would be much more powerful if you were actually tricked into believing the whole thing. The problem is that, if you know anything about film, you know immediately that it’s fake. It’s filmed on video and 16mm black and white film. (Because of the video camera, both films are square shaped, so don’t look for a widescreen edition of the movie. If they put one out, avoid it. They’re screwing with you.) Heather, the “director” of the group, keeps saying stuff like, “Get the DAT! Get it on!” Apparently, though, it was on the whole time, because the sound never sounded different. Do video cameras have as good of sound equipment as a DAT? I doubt it.
What makes this work is the acting. (I can’t imagine that the acting was all that good in Cannibal Holocaust.) Pretty much all of the actual lines were ad-libbed. The actors only knew the basic storyline. When they start out they look like any three normal students going out for a weekend of fun and filmmaking. They’re saying stuff like, “I’m filming a dirty butt” and “I could help you, but I’d rather stand here and record” and marveling over one of the guy’s chest hair patterns. This is stuff that you can’t write. It just comes up in conversation. That’s what made Heather, Josh and Mike so real.
After a while, when they finish interviewing people and they actually get to the woods they’re still all cool. Until the second night when they start to hear things. That’s the filmmakers trying to keep these people on their toes. As time went on the actors actually started to run out of food and weren’t getting any sleep because of the torture they were going through during the nights.
The really amazing parts of the movie are during the night. The day scenes are pretty good while they’re getting lost and blaming everyone else. The night scenes, though, are some of the tensest scenes I’ve seen in a long time. As the movie goes on there’s more and more darkness and they just keep getting more and more frightening finally culminating in a very heartfelt and almost frightening apology and a conclusion that just leaves you walking out of the theatre in a sober silence. And, even though you know you won’t actually see the “Witch” (something else that probably disappointed a lot of people, but remember which version of The Haunting was better–I haven’t seen the new one yet, that’s a link to a very short review of the original), you’re still looking in the woods for her. Especially in the bits that are total darkness, of which there are many.
I knew all of this stuff before I went in and I still enjoyed it thoroughly. I may actually have to give The Sixth Sense higher marks if only because there wasn’t so much hype for that one and it was a little more fully developed. But The Blair Witch Project brings us another intelligent horror film that, hopefully, will bring a new age to horror. I, personally, like the slasher flicks that have been coming out lately, but they’re not really scary. They’re just kind of like fun death movies. This movie and The Sixth Sense weren’t really fun, but they were lasting. I didn’t lose sleep over Scream. I may lose an hour or two over this one and I definitely did over The Sixth Sense. (It takes a big man to admit that. And I am that big man. Well, ok, I’m only 5’9″, but that doesn’t mean anything. Leave me alone!!)