Monday, October 3, 2016

The Blair Witch Project

Three friends Heather, Michael, and Josh set out to make a documentary about the Blair Witch. First, they interview the people of Burkittsville (formerly Blair), Maryland to see what urban legends still exist about the witch. Then they traverse into the Black Hills Forest north of the city to find sites where strange happenings occurred. Then they start to get lost and arguing all the time until eventually one of them disappears. Is it a witch or are they simply lost?

Curse of the Blair Witch-1999 PC from alonso ruvalcaba on Vimeo.

The Blair Witch Project is the first film to really utilize the internet and TV to create its own mythos before the film even came out. The Curse of the Blair Witch "documentary" (seen above) aired on the SciFi channel a month before the release of the film detailing the backstory. People who knew Heather, Mike, and Josh in real life spoke about their relationship, their backgrounds, and their motivations. News clips detailing their disappearance and the search for them are also interspersed in the short along with clips from The Blair Witch Project. Before internet could be used to dispel misinformation, this documentary was key in making people believe it was real. I personally didn't as a kid, but I had classmates who swore it was real or that they obliquely knew someone who knew one of the missing people. It was an urban legend explosion that while most likely never happen again.

The film itself is pretty decent and very influential. It's the birth of modern age found footage, but moves much slower than the genre typically does now. Unease is built up over time and the group slowly turns on Heather as the person to blame for everything. The night scenes where they hear children and other sounds around the woods are frightening, but it's not quite the same watching it at home. In the theater, I could hear every tiny sound all around me. At home, I couldn't hear a lot of it clearly. Getting lost in the woods by itself is frightening, but this film added an extra mysterious myth to make it even worse. It all builds up to the discovery of the house at the end, which holds no clear answers about what happened to Heather, Mike, and Josh.

The film has some flaws. Too much of the film has the three simply bickering and cursing at each other. It gets old fast and goes on at length. I wish the Blair Witch had a more defined mythology instead of some anecdotes from townspeople and reports of mysterious events years after she died. It would have been cool to get a picture of the actual person she was. The film does a great job of not showing anything truly supernatural, which never confirms that there's an actual witch. Maybe it's just the group losing their minds after being lost in the woods. I especially like the theory from Film Theory that Josh and Mike took Heather in the woods to terrorize and kill her. So many of their bizarre actions make sense with this reading. The ending gives us absolutely no clue as to what happened. It leaves me unsatisfied with not even a hint.

The Blair Witch Project is incredibly influential and unique for its time. It's one of the only films I've ever heard people be fooled into thinking it's real. If you can watch in a theater or have a surround sound home theater, I would recommend that over a regular TV to get the whole experience. It has its shortcomings, but remains enjoyable.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

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