Monday, October 18, 2021

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

     hadn’t seen “The Blair Witch Project” in a great many years. In compiling the film list for this month, I wanted to cover the proper subjects—for example, vampires, ghosts and witches. When thinking of how I can more properly represent witches, the film occurred to me, and I wanted to see how it held up, given up how controversial it has been, going back all the way to 1999 when it was initially released.

 When I first saw the film I found it incredibly believable and scary. For most of my life, the idea of getting lost in the woods has always been especially scary to me, and a great deal of my appreciation for the film comes from that. Watching the film again after so many years, I was surprised at how well it holds up. The film from which countless found footage films (“Paranormal Activity,” “V/H/S,” for instance) have been birthed, “The Blair Witch Project” remains probably the most quality horror film the genre has to offer. For a found footage film, a surprising amount of work went into the script. The mythology that the writers—Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez—put into the script, creating urban legends around the story of the Blair Witch and the town of Burkitsville, Maryland, is extremely commendable, genuine, and it shows in how the marketing was able to take off initially, when so many believed the film to be a documentary of a true story. The stories—that possibly because of a local woman executed in the 1700s there are strange tragedies that happen in the town—seem very believable, and even simple; a group of hunters in the 19th century found murdered, a serial killer who targeted children in the 1940s.

 This film is both of its time and ahead of its time. Today, a film like “The Blair Witch Project” would never be able to have the success that it did. In 1999, the world didn’t carry around an instantly available Google in their pockets, and the whole conceit of fiction masquerading as truth would be easier to dispel, and quicker to dismiss. But still, this is a very strong film. Heather Donahue’s performance is incredible convincing and strong, and she goes through a journey of young person excited to research these legends and gain fame telling about them, through the horror of the film. This film is also, to its credit, so restrained. The single brief scene of blood, for instance, is never explained, and haunting simply because it’s unknown. The ending, too, is also excellently restrained, and because of its maturity in that, delivered a terse and powerful shock that catapulted this film into horror movie history.

I’m also intrigued by the different ways to read the film. It never occurred to me on my initial watches, but I am partial now to how ambiguous this is. While on the surface, the film is a horror story of a woman and her two male friends investigating urban legends and filming an amateur documentary, eventually getting lost and disappearing due to supernatural events caused by the Blair Witch, the film, also, can be viewed in a different kind of sinister light; there is not an instance in the film that can dispel the idea that Mike and Josh are doing this all themselves, to terrorize Heather. And that is as scary, if not scarier, than the supernatural happenings and ideas.

“The Blair Witch Project” is an incredible film, and have an even greater appreciation for it now. Also of note, in 2016 I saw the latest sequel, “Blair Witch” and found that absolutely worth watching, as well.


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