directors Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
So, with my 13 year old son suddenly deciding that he is really into horror films, I offered him the pick of the film channels of what movie he wanted to see. Between Netflix, Hulu, and Fandor, we had a lot from which to choose, and he went with my notes on The Blair Witch Project.
The film that didn’t invent the “faux found footage” genre but did spark it into overdrive, The Blair Witch Project was one of those things that I saw back in the day, appreciated for what it was, but had never revisited in all the years. I had seen its remarkably bad sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), and I think for all its badness had appreciated that it hadn’t tried to go all “faux found footage” 2 on us.
To be fair, in 1999, “faux found footage” was novel enough to enliven a movie. And The Blair Witch Project took that concept, that the movie is utterly comprised of footage that was found when its filmmakers disappeared that it earned its added thrills of fake verity. It’s very dedicated to the whole concept that this footage is all we have. And the crappy camerawork, the ellipses in knowledge, all the shaking darkness, and mumbled nonsense…it’s because the film was all that was left. This is no polished work of film art, but the opposite, an artifact.
The story of a trio of filmmakers hunting on a legend of the Blair Witch in the Maryland woods only to become utterly lost and tormented by unknown forces…it taps into a pretty primal fear. Lost in the woods. Don’t know what is out there, what is scaring you.
For all the credit that I’ll give it, and it does deserve it, largely on innovation and casting and improvisation (the film was executed interestingly, as well as marketed in novel fashion), I would say what it winds up lacking is the power of images. And unless you are really plugged into the narrative, the diagetic universe of the characters, all that shaky camerawork and black screen, breathing and cursing, terrors are not all that well evoked.
The actors actually did film the whole thing. And the lead, Heather Donahue, who is the director within the film, hadn’t actually operated a camera much prior to being the lead camera operator on the film. What I’m getting at is that I don’t think that the film itself holds up all that well. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not as iconic as one might try to recall. The efficacy of the images of the bound sticks and hanging objects, it could be freaky…the teeth when uncovered are actually creepy. The final image, with one character standing in a corner before the camera slaps down and the film runs out…it works to an extent. You don’t really have time to read it. It’s freaky because it doesn’t make sense, but that’s all you’re left with in the end.
Now I say this because this is my takeaway from this viewing of The Blair Witch Project. And again, I didn’t think it was awful by any means. I think there is an honesty and a commitment to the narrative and idea to which most “faux found footage” films since have often paid poor lip service. But I also don’t think it stands up as a “great” horror film, even of its time. I think it’s influence and innovation stand strong.
That said, Felix was pretty freaked out by the end of the film while most of the film he was almost kind of bored. The ending is the film’s best sequence.
In the end, the film is more iconic for its influence and sadly that influence is a litany of much crappier and cheaper horror films on the whole. I look forward to a gap in the production of “faux found footage” films. Maybe after some long break from them, someone will innovate again.