US (dir. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez)
Synopsis: Three film students set out into the Black Hills Forest to make a documentary on the legendary Blair Witch. Armed with a 16mm camera, a Hi8 video camera, and a DAT recorder, every step, word and sound is captured. After wandering around the Black Hills Forest, Heather, Josh, and Mike are cold, lost and hunted. Finally, one night after the last ray of light had left the forest black, they were never to be seen again. Despite thousands of hours searching the Black Hills area, neither of the filmmakers or any trace of their gear was found, and the search was called off. One year later, a bag full of film cans, DAT tapes, and video tapes were found. The behind the scenes, video footage and the film, are cut together to make a fictional movie which seems more than real.
Review: Even as a 13 year old, watching “The Blair Witch Project” on a VHS copy with a troupe of giggling girlfriends, high on sugary treats and carbonated drinks, I found this supposedly “real” found footage film to be more than just a little disappointing and more blatantly and obviously fake than I (even at the tender age of 13) could have even fathomed. To put it bluntly, it was just plain bad. This was the film that duped North America, hell, the whole world, into believing it was real? This was the film that scared the pants off everybody, packed theatres to the brim and made a solid chunk of change ($248,639,099 to be exact) at the box office? WTF? And now, upon seeing it 10 years later, it’s still as bad as I remembered it to be, if not even worse. “The Blair Witch Project” amounts to nothing more than an over-rated mess of a film, with the only thing terrifying about it being the fact that so many people bought into its bullshit.
One thing I cannot understand is how anyone could have thought this “found footage” film was actually spliced together from real found footage. Yes there was extensive marketing backing the film that served to support the gimmick of the film being “real”, but how could anyone continue to believe in that when the recovered “footage” looked as blatantly staged as it did? The cameras capture virtually every single argument, discussion, and unexplained “event” that involves our unlucky trio of “film students” (right…). Like seriously, does the camera ever fucking turn off? Heather, annoying twat that she is, absolutely insists upon filming everything, documenting the group’s drama even in the most dire of circumstances and even during face to face arguments where Mike or Josh are practically screaming at her to turn the camera off or at least lower it so that they can speak to one another face to face. Which actually brings me to my next qualm, the horrible acting. In no way did these kids for a single second convince me they were lost or in any danger at all. The acting is fucking terrible, which is pretty sad considering the “actors” are supposed to be convincing us that they are “real” people and we are supposed to believe we are actually watching their recovered footage. What makes the acting so God-awful is not so much the quality of the acting, but the fact that the over-acting starts to really shine through, especially in the case of shriek-a-second Heather.
To make matters worse, the story line is paper thin. The filmmakers are lost in the woods after searching for the legendary Blair Witch and attempting to uncover the truth behind a child murderer, yet nothing is made fully clear to the audience in the sense that we know what the filmmakers are up against. At least in the case of “Paranormal Activity”, we had a sense of what the malevolent force behind all the chaos is, but in “The Blair Witch Project” we have a vague idea (at best) of what is responsible for the events we see on film and virtually everything else can be filed under “hunh?” or “wtf?”.
And the less said about the events of the film, the better. In some sense, nothing really happens in the 90 minutes of footage leading up to Mike standing in a corner (with Heather filming him) in what is supposed to be an eerie echo of a story recounted earlier in the film about the town’s notorious child murderer offing children in pairs while one child stood facing a corner wall.
The footage leading up to this “thrilling” ending looks a lot like United States army combat footage, with shaky camera effects, night vision, and a whole lot of running through trees and ruined cottages – not scary in the least. In fact, in terms of scares, there is virtually nothing in “The Blair Witch Project” that could even remotely be classified as horrific or terrifying, there’s just a whole lotta nothing leading up to… nothing. Had the film been an exercise in enduring Heather’s shrill voice, annoying dependence on filming everything, and her inept sense of direction for a weekend, this film would have been one of the most horrifying yet. But… it’s not.
I realize that this film is credited as being largely responsible for spawning the “found footage” sub-genre, but one could easily argue that “Cannibal Holocaust” already went that route years ago (nearly 20 years ago, to be exact) and the outbreak of found footage films post-“Blair Witch” weren’t exactly on the heels of the film’s release, with most of the found footage horror movie entries (i.e. “Paranormal Activity”, “Cloverfield”, “REC”, “The Last Exorcism” etc.) coming out more than half a decade after the release of “The Blair Witch Project” in 1998. So saying “The Blair Witch Project” started, or is entirely responsible for, the found footage trend isn’t exactly accurate when you consider that the sub-genre was already there, it just hadn’t been fully explored yet and (as we’ve seen with newer releases like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield”) hadn’t been taken to new levels using different approaches to film-making.
Sometimes I almost feel like I want to like this film and want to not exercise my movie elitism by calling it crap, but I simply cannot. I think Brian from “The Family Guy” put it best when he summed up ‘The Blair Witch Project” as follows:
“They’re in the woods. The camera keeps moving around. I guess they’re looking for some witch, I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. Nothing’s happening…nothing’s happening…something about a map. Nothing’s happening…it’s over. A lot of people in the audience look pissed.”