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Friday, November 11, 2016

The Blair Witch Project

I couldn't write about witch films without including The Blair Witch Project, even though no witch appears in it. Released in 1999, film became one of the most successful films of all time, based on revenue versus cost, and though it wasn't the first to use the "found footage" gimmick it has been the benchmark for it ever since.

Directed and conceived by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project has no omniscient camera, and consists entirely of footage shot by three performers. The characters, named after the actors, are documentarians working on a film about a local Maryland legend called The Blair Witch. They interview locals, learning key information about a hermit who murdered eight children.

The bulk of the short film (80 minutes) is the time they go into the woods, and end up getting lost. This film is less about the supernatural than people losing their shit. The main focus is on Heather Donahue, who assures her partners (Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams) that she knows where she is. But then they continually go south and end up in a spot they were in before, already two days late, and they kind of go berserk.

The witch angle really is a red herring, though it is effective as an overall atmospheric touch. Each night they hear noises, and after seeing this film you may not want to spend nights in the woods anymore. Just the shining of a light into the darkness of the woods is disturbing, as you never know what you might alight on. When they hear voices and laughter of children, and something shakes their tent, they really know something is amiss.

I liked the film a great deal, both on the original viewing and seeing it again. However, it was a polarizing film, as horror aficionados accustomed to more gruesome viewing were disappointed. It actually got nominations for the Golden Raspberry as worst film of the year. I disagree, thinking the film is very effective in creating spookiness without showing anything directly. The scene where they encounter stick men in the trees, or find the empty house in the middle of the woods, are chilling (I once was walking along a trail in a park in Princeton and came across an abandoned house and immediately thought of The Blair Witch Project).

Remember kids, what scares us the most is what we don't know, not what we know.

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