Blair Witch Project, The (1999)
Cast: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Micheal Williams
Director: Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick
Nutshell: Low budget found footage shocker. Innovative, different, a breath of fresh air!
“it creeps up on you” Empire
“one of the decades genuine cinematic phenomena. Super spooky, enough to make your hair turn white” Total Film
“moments of absolute terror but a repetitious excursion… don’t expect to be spellbound” Film Preview
“A cunningly conceived and crafted exercise in suggestibility and terror” New Yorker
“inspires an unpleasant mix of creeping dread and festering anxiety” Virgin Movies
“All shows till 1 a.m. sold out.” This greeting had become all too familiar to those of us hoping to see the cinematic sensation that swept through the US this summer. No, I am not referring to George Lucas’ overdone turkey, The Phantom Menace, nor to the Will Smith stinker Wild Wild West, but to a rousing new film that is totally bereft of any special effects and bankable stars – no blood, violence or computer generated images either.
There is little doubt that 1999 has been the year of The Blair Witch Project – a film so simple and yet so unique and devastatingly effective that many multiplex cinemas resorted to showing the movie on three or more screens in order to try and accommodate the enormous interest it generated.
In New York City alone, 26 out of 27 theatres showing Blair Witch reported all-time attendance records. And the town of Burkitsville, Maryland, where the movie is set, was besieged by a deluge of inquisitive visitors from far and wide. Street signs vanished virtually overnight as frenzied mementos seekers scrambled to get a piece of Blair history. This is the stuff hysteria is made of.
Audiences jaded by watching masked killers, copious amounts of blood and gore and, of course, endless sequences of special effects, just cannot get enough of this film. While established studios churn out putrefying garbage like The Haunting – a special effects dud that incited snickers rather than jitters – which cost nearly $100 million dollars, Blair Witch has captivated audiences despite being modestly budgeted at $30,000 dollars. And a few weeks after its release, it is not only the most profitable movie in the is history of cinema, but also the most successful independent film ever made. In North America alone, it has soared past the 100 million mark.
Directed by a couple of debutantes, the film stars no one you have ever heard of. The story is simplicity itself: “In October 1994, three student filmmakers disappear in the woods near Burkitsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary… A year later their footage is found.”
It is through this footage that the sheer terror which the three filmmakers find themselves enveloped by is unraveled. It is shot documentary-style, with jittery hand-held cameras and is as far removed from conventionally slick Hollywood productions as can be. To reveal any more would be unforgivable.
In certain ways, the film is a throw-back to the early pre-special effects days when directors tried to terrify by suggestion rather than in-your-face gore and effects that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. In Blair Witch, it is what you cannot see that terrifies and unnerves. The eerie suggestion of inanimate stick figures and rock formations sets the mind racing. The situation the students find themselves in, the sheer helplessness that they experience and the subsequent despair as an unseen evil slowly closes in on them – this is the terror portrayed brilliantly in Blair Witch.
Those expecting another teen slasher film like Scream will be hugely disappointed and there are those who have found it all rather bewildering. The Blair Witch Project is a far cry from anything that has preceded and is without a shadow of a doubt one of the creepiest and most original film of the ’90’s. Small wonder that it has done for hiking what Jaws did for swimming all those years ago.