My first taste of The Blair Witch Project came from Newsweek,
who ran a combined article on American Pie and Blair Witch. But
where American Pie was standard Hollywood fare – better than much that
comes out of Hollywood, but Hollywood fluff nonetheless – The Blair Witch
Project is one of the most frightening, elemental, and powerful films I have
First, I must provide the essential premise of the film, as it has
been shown all over the media:
In 1994, three student filmmakers vanished in the woods while
filming a documentary. A year later, their footage was found.
Those words adorn the very beginning of the film. From there on,
everything you see will be tainted by the realization that there can (probably)
be no happing ending to this footage.
Once the film begins, we are entirely within the world of the
camera, much more tightly than we ever have been before. This is raw footage,
(seemingly) uncut, with a definite sense of someone on the other side of it. Due
to its format, The Blair Witch Project has a sense of realism almost
unheard of in modern cinema.
Back when movies were first made, black-and-white classics like Frankenstein
and Dracula, and especially the very early Nosferatu, were scary
to its audiences because cinema was so new. To those audiences, there was a
realism in seeing people moving on a screen, of seeing an unearthly white
vampire moving toward someone, that is unheard of in our postmodern, jaded
society. That’s why Blair Witch works; we all make films on our own
little videocameras, and they look just like what we see in Blair Witch.
So when the weird noises start in the woods, when the strange voodoo objects
appear, the effect is much more real than – oh, I don’t know, say a
computer-generated cherub opening its eyes and looking at you in the
multi-million dollar special effects extravaganza The Haunting, which
opened last week?
While Blair Witch does ultimately become very scary, it is
mostly a ‘creepy’ scary, a sense of something being not quite right, of
impossible things actually occurring. The sense of realism is so strong that
innately, we find it hard to believe that these strange sounds and voodoo
objects are really there; such things don’t actually happen in real life.
And of course, in the back of our mind we know it’s simply a fictional motion
picture; regardless, the creepiness remains. There are also scary parts in the
tried and true tradition of modern horror, but they’re wisely spread out through
One caveat: as the above implies, if you’re going in hoping for
another Scream, don’t even bother going. Much of the film is devoted
simply to the teens being lost in the woods, and in fact, The Blair Witch
Project is almost as effective a dramatic film about being lost in the woods
as it is a horror film. Also, these are real kids out in the woods without a
script, and half the time they’re a lot funnier than their scripted blockbuster
The film will, of course, become a cult classic, sharing a place
with such preeminent horror as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original Friday
the 13th, and The Evil Dead. As of right now (the weekend of July
30th), Blair Witch – which was bought by its distributor for $1 million
– has been making more per theater per day than it cost to make
($30,000-$60,000, I’m not sure of the exact figure). For a film shot entire with a standard video camera and a Super 8, I
would definitely label that an accomplishment.
In any event, The Blair Witch Project is a very frightening
film, but the key element is imagination. An unimaginative person would not be
scared of strange noises in the night; they’d assume it was an animal, or some
other easily explainable occurrence. But, to quote a character Thomas Harris’s
novel Red Dragon: ‘Fear comes with imagination, it’s the penalty, it’s
the price of imagination.’ When it comes to a film like The Blair Witch
Project, this is one of the truest statements ever made.