As many of you may know by now (considering I have said this on numerous occasions) I love horror films. I love them so much that in the past I have gone to the movie theater on my own to watch them (and sat as far away as possible from the only other person in the room / creepy man in the front row) because none of my friends like the genre, and I am not opposed to watching them at home alone in the wee hours of the night with all of the lights off. Well, I may have to stop doing this because I just found out the hard way that some movies really are a little too scary for those viewing conditions.
For those of you who don’t know, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams) in the woods as they hope to get footage for their documentary about the myth of the Blair Witch. After first doing some interviews of those familiar with the myth around the nearby town, they venture into the woods to search out certain “haunted” spots. Things don’t go too smoothly thanks to some questionable forest exploring skill levels, but on the trip in they do make it to the spots they hoped to. Following some normal camping experiences things start to go bump in the night, and though slightly creeped out, the filmmakers don’t think too much of these odd occurrences because they don’t plan on being in the woods that much longer. At least that is the plan, which proves to be easier said than done.
Even though this film was released back in 1999, it holds up with the horror films of today because, just like Paranormal Activity, it preys on the viewer’s imagination and manipulates it in order to create this growing fear and anticipation about what can happen, and not necessarily what is. The film starts off at a slower pace as the filmmakers go through the beginning stages of their process. Nothing significant really happens and the characters become slightly irritating at times considering they spend about half of the time yelling at Heather to get the camera out of their faces as things start to go from bad to worse, but these initial scenes are necessary to see just how far the characters fall as they slowly start to lose their hope and grip of reality.
Though the performances get stronger as the days pass, the strongest moments during the film occur during the nighttime hours when hardly anything can be seen. The use of a handheld camera dictates the audience’s view of what is occurring, creating a sense of terror of what is lurking right outside of the frame. Just consider the footage shown: the majority of the nighttime shots are of the camera panning back in forth from left to right along the trees in front of the tent, with each swing of the camera bringing about the possibility of something jumping out at it. Then, what is not of the trees is a completely dark picture with only the audio giving any indication of what is occurring. I remember at one point one of the characters says, “What the f is that?” (I might be subconsciously editing that…) and I was so engrossed with what was happening that I was talking back to the screen, saying: “‘What the f is that?’ What do you mean what the f is that!? I didn’t see!!! I can’t see anything!!!” And then I resorted to the childhood tactic of watching the movie through squinted eyes. Basically, I was so afraid of what I might see that I was avoiding eye contact with my TV, and this is the only time (other than while watching ET as a child) I have had to do that.
Even though little actually happens in this film, it is so successful as a horror film because the audience becomes a fourth member of the group of filmmakers thanks to the use of the handheld camera. We get frustrated with them when they do stupid things (Some of my input: “I can’t believe you just knocked that rock off the creepy pile! Stupid! What!?!? Don’t touch it! Ugh, now you’ve got curse on you!!!”), we lose hope along with them, and we freak out like nobodies business when they get frantic (well, at least I did). And though I am not necessarily a fan of the ending, I highly recommend the movie to anyone who likes the genre because it is a cult classic for a reason, and if you are brave enough, sit through it in a dark room by yourself because I guarantee it will provide a completely different (and way more terrifying) experience.
Final Grade: B+