The Test of Time: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard.

Today, the found footage movie isn’t exactly an original concept. We’ve all been saturated with a plethora of films that make viewers feel part of the action, part of the story, and no genre embraced the technique more than the horror genre, and why not. It’s cheap. It’s effective.

While the gimmick probably died with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise, I seriously doubt we’ve seen the last of it. Next weekend marks a hybrid version of the most famous, most impactful film of the genre, but after so many imitators, does one of the biggest hits in horror history (earning $240 million worldwide off a $22,000 budget) stand up against the test of time?

Under the examination: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Ah, that snot bubble.

THE STORY: Starting with the note that three film students vanished while making a documentary about local legend Blair Witch in 1994, the film acts as the “final” footage of the three. Everything's fun and games as Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard interview the locals of Burkittsville seeking to find the truth about the myth. They soon venture into a Maryland forest, where they end up lost, pissed at each other, and encounter some scary stuff deep in the woods (which obviously doesn’t work out for any of them).

Worst time out of all time.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Nearly 20 years after THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT scared the shit out of people, the original impact has no doubt been lost. But allow for a quick recap of the movie for those who weren’t along for that ride. When the film arrived in theaters, a lot of folks thought the movie was real as it had no cast, no writers, no producers or directors listed. It also was one of the first films to use a large-scale viral marketing campaign with a website fooling folks a full year in advance. That’s how the legend of the BLAIR WITCH began.

If anything THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT remains an iconic moment in horror. Its impact cannot be denied even if the film itself doesn’t necessarily hold up. But that’s not to say it doesn’t work. While the movie moves slowly, when it wants to add on the creep factor it does it with great effect, laying it on peanut butter thick. Case in point: when Heather runs manically through the woods at night screaming “What the f*ck is that!?” over and over. Without the aid of a score and only the sounds of their screams and footsteps, the tension is palpable.

And to me, the last 20 minutes or so still work, with that permanently horrific shot of Heather’s cameraman standing in the corner. That moment haunted me when I first saw it. While it doesn’t maintain that effect, it still delivers a shiver moment. The acting seems believable for the most part, especially since they’re amateurs playing versions of themselves. Their arguments (as annoying as they sometimes are) play authentically, something no doubt all movies strive for.

The guys that made camping look not so fun.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The law of diminishing returns seems evident with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Even though it is a classic in terms of originality (though plenty of other films did the found footage approach first), we’ve all seen this too many times. The jerky camera. The questioning narrator. The annoying friends. Once we know and understand the gimmick, the tension disappears pretty quickly.

For a horror flick, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT sure as hell doooess moooovve sloooowwly. It takes about 30 minutes until something, anything, happens (the pile of rocks!) and about 43 minutes until we actually see something in those woods (the sticks!). Now when folks thought this could have been a “real” film, the tension and banter worked. But now…get to the point. Give us a thicker plot and create something more because punishing an audience with three people complaining for an hour until something happens just doesn’t work with repeat viewings, something I’m sure the new BLAIR WITCH won’t repeat.

I bet she digs Fireball shots.

THE VERDICT: The impact that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT had on horror no doubt equals that of a HALLOWEEN. It didn’t kick start a successful franchise (though Adam Wingard’s BLAIR WITCH no doubt hopes to resurrect the title), but it did invigorate the genre. It’s an undeniable classic because of its impact. But as a film, it’s has moments but it remains a far cry from quality film making. More like an interesting experiment that caught like a gasoline soaked fire.



The best movie scam ever.

Source: Arrow in the Head

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