Posted by: Kristen Hicks | October 11, 2011

Tis the Season for Horror: The Blair Witch Project

I remember when the Blair Witch Project first came out. I was too young to be let into a horror movie in the theatre or be able to rent it from the movie store, so my only real access to scary movies was the edited versions that showed up on cable. Nevertheless, I already knew I loved horror movies and followed much of the marketing story surrounding the movie and had every intention of seeing it as soon as I could get my hands on it.

Then the years passed and even as I cultivated my interest in horror movies, Blair Witch never really made it to the top of my list, until now. At the time it was released, much of the buzz around it was based on the impression many had that the film was actual footage taken by three young filmmakers that went missing. Even now, the main website for the Blair Witch Project is designed to perpetrate the idea that the movie is about actual people and a real mythology that exists in this small town.

Over time, it came out that the movie was in fact a fiction, skillfully crafted to feel like found footage. It was the first of many films to use the found footage technique (recent examples include REC, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead), but was the only one that successfully convinced viewers of its authenticity, or really even tried to. Watching it all this time later and knowing full well that the characters are actors and the scenes all staged, it’s easy to understand how people could be duped.

There’s a lot that the movie gets right, but one of its greatest strengths is how real all the characters feel. Their interactions with each other never feel scripted and their actions throughout the film feel realistic. The only real exception to this is their decision to continually film their experiences, even after days with limited food and sleep and many horrific, unexplainable occurrences, but even that is addressed in conversations they have and the character traits they each possess that are made clear.

Another considerable strength of the film is creating a situation that inspires dread even before the ominous supernatural elements come into play. The characters find themselves lost in the woods, with no civilization within reach and limited provisions. Adding to their already dire circumstances, the weather does them no favors and many scenes take place in pouring rain. As a viewer, you feel their discomfort and hopelessness. It’s so rare in our current age to find yourself thoroughly cut off from the rest of the world. In spite of their access to high end technology to record their experiences, they’re lacking the technological ability to connect with anyone outside of the woods they’ve found themselves stranded within.

By the time strange piles of rocks and strangely crafted items made of sticks begin to make their appearance, the situation is already dire. As it becomes more and more clear over time that something conscious is out to haunt them, they’re already starting to lose it. The dynamic of the three changes as tensions mount.

We never see the Blair Witch or any figure that embodies the strange happenings, the horrific elements of the movie always present themselves less directly. Some ominous force is out to strike fear in these individuals who made the mistake of infringing on her/its territory and slowly drives them mad.

My expectations of the movie dulled over the years as its acclaim over time was more tied to jokes and parodies than the original movie itself. In spite of the early positive reaction to it, I wasn’t sure I’d be sitting down to grade a horror flick. I was surprised by just how impressed I was with the movie. The actors, the way it was shot, the setting and mythology they created behind it were all executed perfectly. Knowing much of the story behind it before I started did little to diminish my enjoyment of it. I can only imagine what the experience of seeing this as a 14-year, convinced it was real, would have been like.

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