Monday, 30 October 2017

Thirteen Nights of Halloween Horror | Night Twelve - The Blair Witch Project (1999)

image credit: artisan entertainment

Growing up, my parents were constantly watching horror films (much to my Mum’s dismay). Over the years, I’d grown accustomed to them quoting and referencing certain films; The Blair Witch Project is one of them, especially when I began to delve into the world of horror. I vaguely knew about the film from their descriptions of it, the most prevalent feature being the found footage cinematography and that audiences believed the film to be real at the time of release.

And there really hasn’t been another film like it. Sure, the Paranormal Activity’s and other films jumped on the found-footage bandwagon, but none were as successful as Blair Witch in tone nor in improvisation. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez created a fictional world surrounding the town of Burkittsville and the woods of Maryland to the point of creating websites with links to faux police reports, interviews and evidence surrounding the ‘disappearance’ of the actors, going to the lengths of creating missing person posters and listing them as ‘missing, presumed dead’ on IMDB. It was one of the first films to go ‘viral’ in the late 1990s and inspired countless other directors and film companies to follow similar internet marketing campaigns in the future.

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As previously mentioned, the film relies heavily on improvisation and little to no contact between the actors and directors. Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard portray ‘themselves’ in the film, acting as three student filmmakers who hike around the wooded area of Burkittsville to document a local legend known as the ‘Blair Witch’. The footage we are shown in the 81 minutes of film is that of what remains of their video and sound equipment after they went ‘missing’, which was recovered by police investigating their disappearance. And that’s the beauty of this film – we’re seeing events unfold as they are, leading us to know as much as they do as we only have their perspective.

In a review for the Chicago-Sun Times, Roger Ebert praised the film stating, “[…] The Blair Witch Project is a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can’t see. The noise in the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark.” That sentiment coupled with the actors being traumatized unknowingly by the directors (ruffling of tents, figures standing ominously without knowledge), food rations and minimal information as to where they were supposed to hike, The Blair Witch Project is an astounding piece of work with meticulous attention to detail that leaves you with an innate fear of walking through woodland at any time of day. 

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