The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Director: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
Michael C. Williams
Three student filmmakers trek into the Burkittsville woods to shoot a documentary on the “Blair Witch" legend. And before you can say “most profitable independent flick ever made”, they get lost and weird, creepy things start happening to them.
"In October of 1994, three students filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found."
I first took notice of "The Blair Witch Project" on the Internet before the entire media blitz hit hard. I used to visit the official site, wondering what the film was about, e-mailed the directors of the flick to get some info and read about the film wherever I could. One night, I got preview tickets for the movie and my brother and I hit the theatre to check it out. Once the film was over, both my bro and I came out with our stomachs in knots. We felt like we just had lost three close friends. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
"The Blair Witch Project" is a one-shot deal, a great idea that Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez fully capitalized on first. I applaud them for every aspect of it. Be it the marketing which they commandeered on the Net, passing the film as “real life” found footage, the fake documentaries that played on TV ("The Curse of The Blair Witch" is the only one I saw) that supported the film’s claims and the actual film itself, which effectively milked the most obvious low budget film location (the woods) to its full potential. The film successfully taps into our fear of being lost in the woods at night and apart from Jason Voorhees, I think everybody is afraid of that.
But what made the movie really work for me was not only that I got attached to the kids throughout the film, but that I also felt like I was there with them. The film is shown from the kid’s POV and we walk through the nightmare with them. When they got lost, I got lost. When they heard sounds, I heard sounds. When they were scared, I was scared. Since the film isn’t shot in a slick “professional” way (it's shot with a camcorder and a 16 mm BNW camera), the line between reality and fiction is blurred. That made it possible for me to get fully swallowed by the world of this film. The acting by the three leads also helped the film’s case. Since everything (dialogue included) was mostly improvised, their reactions felt genuine and unrehearsed. That made everything seem so much more real.
I’ve heard people complain about the “shaky cam” effect which the film sports and how it gave them headaches. I even read that some audience members with “motion sickness” hurled in the theatres at the time of its big screen release. Fortunately for me, I have a strong stomach and the “shaky cam” didn’t bother me one bit. To me, it added a level of mystery to the film and reinforced the feeling that I was there. Having some of the shots be blurry, dark or badly framed kept me on my toes and had me searching the screen trying to figure out what the hell was going down. How’s that for audience participation?
The film’s concept does result in a few lapses in logic though. First off, I don’t know any student filmmakers that would waste so much film stock, shooting everything and anything. Film stock costs lots of money and these kids didn’t look rich to me. I also doubt that they would be shooting themselves during the more tumultuous moments. Take the finale for example: being in their shoes I would’ve tossed that camera aside and ran like a bitch in heat! But on the flip side, my brother brought up a good point: they used the cameras as flashlights to see where they were going. Do I buy it? I guess…
Overall, "The Blair With Project" succeeds in what it sets out to do: fool you into thinking that what you’re seeing is real. The film is definitely novel and goes to prove that sometimes less...is more. Countless imitators tried to follow in Blair Witch’s footsteps ("The St-Francisville Experiment" comes to mind) and they all sucked balls. That just goes to show how good Blair Witch Project really is. I wouldn’t call it the most terrifying movie ever made, but I will say that it is very involving and unsettling if seen in the right environment. You guys want to go look for The Blair Witch? Strap on you backpacks and let's find the beeyatch!
Heather’s snot running out of her nose like a faucet, Michael’s oddly patterned chest hairs and what looks like bloody, pulled out teeth.
I enjoyed Heather Donahue’s layered performance. She covers it all: bitchy, vulnerable, strong and regretful. Her confession to the camera was very poignant (should’ve wiped that snot though). Joshua Leonard is also very likeable as the more laid back of the three. He’s very natural. One thing though: why does he keep on calling Heather “dude” or “man”. She’s a chick, bro! I really related to Michael C. Williams. He acted like I would’ve acted if put in his situation. I would’ve yelled a lot, lost my cool early on and I also would’ve kicked that fucking map out of my sight. He made me laugh because I related so much.
T & A
We get Michael taking off his shirt and lots of naked stick men. I’m surprised that Heather, Mike and Josh didn’t get it on at a certain point in the film. I mean you've got two guys and one girl in one tent in the middle of nowhere. Some sleazy sex could’ve relieved some of that stress…damn my dirty mind!
The actors shot all 18 hours of footage with the actual equipment that we see onscreen. I will give credit to the directors for making sense of it all in the editing room. I also heard that the directors would creep around on the kids at night to scare them. I guess we call that “method directing”. This film is obviously a team effort. The directors came up with the basic storyline and manipulated their actors. And the actors shot the film and let the situation affect them. This shoot must have been a grueling but extremely rewarding experience.
We hear a rock song coming out of the car radio early on…that’s it. The film has no score except for the end credits.
Today everybody, their uncle and their uncle’s mistresses know about "The Blair Witch Project". The marketing overdose which accompanied the film’s immense success personally turned me off to the movie for a while. Shit, they even sold a Josh’s Blair Witch Mix music compilation at some point! But two years later, I got to appreciate the film again for what it is: an original, effective, eerie mockumentory. This film is best enjoyed if viewed in an appropriate setting. I say...have one friend over, a couple of beers, shut all the lights, unplug the phones and enter the Burkittsville woods with the gang. It worked for me.
The film cost around $37,000 to make and has pulled in over $200 million worldwide.
The film was shot in Maryland’s Seneca Creek State Park near where Sanchez grew up.