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Face-Off: Blair Witch vs. Cloverfield

04.05.2012by: Paul Huffman
Last weeks Face Off saw Armageddon trump the Transformers with a score of 15-5.

This week we will be shining the spotlight on the Found Footage film gimmick. When The Blair Witch Project hit the scene in 1999, a slew of films have been released that have tried to recapture the magic this film presented. Fast forward to 2008 and we were graced with another film that used clever viral marketing to gain an audience in Cloverfield. These two films seem to be two of the most respected within the found footage medium. But which one made the bigger impact?
Story
Three student filmmakers trek their way on into the Maryland woods to get to the bottom of a local legend known as the Blair Witch. After questioning a few local residents, they head into the trees with camera in hand, freak occurrences and mind unraveling ensue.

The granddaddy of found footage films, this was a breath of fresh horror air when it came out. Very little information was given about the myth that it focuses on, we were just as much left in the dark as these characters were. Very enthralling story, that was hammered to death throughout the following years.
A camera, a beautiful New York night, a going away party in which we get to know the characters that will become easy to root for, sprinkle in an explosion, a thrown Lady Liberty head, one huge ass threat and what do you get? One hell of a ride.

We are no stranger to monster flicks in the world of cinema. What this film did offer was some original thought, a main character with a motivation throughout the proceeding that we could relate to, and a bad ass creature design. The whole concept felt fresh while I was watching Cloverfield. Not an easy thing to pull off.
Pace
Slow, but not boring by any stretch of the imagination. We jump right into finding out what this whole local legend is all about, then follow our characters as their lives go from bad to worse. Enough went on with the characters and how they were reacting to their situation that had me hooked enough, not once did I stop giving a sh*t. That said, the films most exciting moments were definitely few and far between.
Once we got passed the introduction to our characters, Cloverfield grabbed us by the neck and didn't let go. The lengthy party scene was necessary in making sure we care about following this guy through the remainder of the film, and it did its job. Everything moved fast, one sh*tty situation after another. Bullets never stopped flyin', people never stopped dyin'. There are a lot of things you can say about Cloverfield, but in my opinion one thing you can't call it is dull.
Thrills
Not much in terms of all out scares in this film. Maybe it would have been different if I had seen it when it first came out, or shortly thereafter. I became desensitized by all the found footage knock-offs by the time I gave Blair With the time of day. I honestly found the slow deterioration of the sanity of the characters to be more unsettling than the supernatural element. The scene where it's revealed what happened to the map left me wondering what kind of sh*it the characters were going to pull next. Nothing more scary than what humans are pushed to when they're put in a situation like this.
The scene in the closing minutes with...well...the monsters closeup, gives Cloverfield the edge alone. This short scene is not alone however, may I just say those mini bastards that make extended appearances throughout the movie did not sit well with me (in a good way). Night vision subway scene being a standout, gets me every time. Get what I'm trying to say? Cloverfield delivered in the thrills and chills department. That chopper was so close to getting out of there.
Ending
Now this is what I'm talking about, by this point business sure picked up. Remember how I said I had actually seen films like the Paranormal Activity trilogy and such before catching this film? Didn't matter. The final scene in that house was extremely suspenseful for me. Do not know what it was. Less was going on then it felt like, no? Well, there is a reason the woods are a backdrop for a film like this, not a damn thing that these people could do to keep themselves from their fate. Especially without a map. What an idiot.
So....damn...close. I loved the final moments, even if what we really wanted to see was going on outside. I don't like mayhem being left up to my imagination. The real kicker is the "flashback" and the infamous whatever the hell it was dropping into the ocean in the distance. Slight edge to Cloverfield for throwing that at us and making us want more. Is the found footage gimmick necessary for the rumored sequel? Debatable.
Viral Marketing
The official website for the Blair Witch has a bunch of goodies. Delves into the myth of the Blair Witch further (dating all the way back to 1785), in depth profiles of the student filmmakers, the "aftermath" of the events of the film (photos included). It really hammers home the theme of this being a genuine course of events. It took the public by storm. To see what I mean, check out the website here.
This film is famous for it's marketing strategy, so much was kept for us and that is extremely rare in an age where we can view a whole film by watching the trailer. Even the title was kept a secret from us in the teasers. So much speculation took place, is it another Godzilla film in disguise? A Lost spin-off? It was amazing how hush hush it really was right up until release. The internet was an avenue for marketing as well, with numerous images as tie-ins to the film. Marketing this way was risky, and it takes a special film for it to work. Cloverfield was a special film.
Cloverfield
So there you have it folks, two of the same mold, one with higher stakes. Cloverfield with the found footage approach, the viral marketing, and nonstop suspense made it Blair Witch on steroids. This is just one persons opinion, what is yours?

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at [email protected] with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

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