The Blair Witch Project (1999), Run-time 86mins, Cert 15.

Directors - Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez.

Writers - Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez.

Starring - Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard & Michael Williams.

 

Premise - In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittesville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. One year later, their footage was found.

So, The Blair Witch project. 4 years ago there was so much hype surrounding the film that trying to watch it impartially was pretty much a thankless task. Between the web campaign, the Discovery Channel specials and the blanket TV spot and trailer coverage you really couldnít hide from the film. I did try, but by the time I settled in my seat in that darkened theatre I was fully aware that the film wasnít a real documentary.

It surprised me then that my knowing it wasnít real didnít hamper my enjoyment of the film. I was still drawn in by the realism, the rawness and the overbearing feeling of dread and tension that drips from every frame of this wonderful film. Even now, 4 years later and after having seen the film on more than a half dozen occasions I get goose bumps watching certain scenes. Amongst others there is Heather running blindly into the dark, her chilling last record and that final amazing, creepy as hell final scene in the house basement.

The movie was filmed entirely by the three principal actors on a colour video camera and a black and white 16mm camera. Almost all of the dialogue was improvised (probably accounting for the films 133 uses of the f-word) the three actors were dumped in the woods with little direction and basically told to react to what they saw. And boy did they react. This is raw undiluted acting, this is emotion. As they trek through those woods, as their situation grows more and more desperate they start to fall apart.

We see them at the start of the film laughing, joking, drinking, and smoking. Like normal young people about to embark on a camping trip. We see them interview various local residents about the Blair Witch. Their stories plant suggestions in our minds of what might be lurking in the woods. As the students plight deepens we hear things, we see weird effigies hanging from trees, random piles of rocks on the ground. Our mind starts to paint pictures of what is dwelling beyond the tent canvas. At the end of the day our imagination can haunt us far more than any special effect.

Off which there are none in The Blair Witch Project. Not once do we see any creatures, or witches or anything. There is a quick glance of blood, but it only serves to further fuel our already rampantly running minds. Where did these come from? What happened to their owner? The film would be far less successful at its task of scaring the viewer if we had seen a hairy old woman shambling through the bushes.

Directors Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez gave little direction to the actors, but they put the film together magnificently in the editing room. They nicely mix the video and 16mm footage. Cutting scenes like the camera had been turned off and immediately jumping into another scene like it had just been suddenly turned back on. By keeping the running time to an amazingly short 86 minutes they ensure that the pace never drops and that the tension never leaves the film.

Aside from a song playing in the car at the start of the film and some surreal sounds over the end credits there is no music in the film. We are instead treated to a barrage of ambient forest sounds. The sound puts us right in the movie with the actors. We could almost be in the tent with them at night as we listen to what sounds like, well Iím not going to spoil it. Combined with the handheld camera work we get an amazing feeling of Ďbeing thereí.

Nothing can really compare with being in a packed, darkened theatre for this film. But, if you can get it dark, get it quiet and you have a surround sound system then you will be in for a treat. You might need to buy into it a little bit, but the quality of the execution ensures that you donít need to put in much effort to get a lot out of this film.

The Blair Witch Project stands as one of only a handful of films to actually scare me. It stayed with me for days after I saw it. I would question innocent noises if I was walking home late at night. The film makes you doubt things that you know to be harmless. It gets under your skin and it exploits the scariest special effect ever created, the human imagination.

 

9/10.

If you enjoyed The Blair Witch project then check out Ė The Last Broadcast, My Little Eye.

Poster Quote Ė When you go down to the woods today.

 

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