To round out the month of October, cinephiles can take in a horror classic, the Blair Witch Project: master of the found footage horror.
The film, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, is a found footage film about a group of film students who decide to make a documentary detailing the mysterious legend of the Blair Witch in the remote woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland. The film stars Heather Donahue as a fictionalized version of herself and the director of the in-universe documentary. She and crew members Mike and Josh travel to Burkittsville where the team meets various characters from the town that tell their perceptions of the Blair Witch legend and several historical events linked to the woods that seem to have no logical explanation. After the first day of shooting, the team enters the woods and initially nothing seems mystical or legendary about the woods but they soon find a clearly manmade site. They come into a clearing with several piles of rocks and small voodoo doll-like figures made of twigs. The team eventually leaves the site but not before disturbing the rocks and twig figures. Later that evening, they begin to discover that the woods are more than they appear to be.
The film first stands out because of its found footage format. It was certainly not the first film to use the technique, but it rejuvenated the genre and created an explosion of found footage horror films. The likes of “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” owe their success to “The Blair Witch Project.” The technique is marked by shaky camera work and naturalistic acting. “The Blair Witch Project” itself only has a 35-page screenplay and most dialogue used in the film is improvised. This technique adds to the horror element because it certainly feels like a real occurrence.
It should be noted that the film’s events are entirely fictional. Heather and the team are not dead as the film portrays. It’s only worth mentioning because when the film came out, there was a huge scare that the directors Myrick and Sanchez released a “snuff film,” an illicit film depicting the actual death of one of the actors in the film. The viral marketing campaign that accompanied the film only added to the craze of the film and made the film an instant cult classic.
Another facet of the film that sets it apart is the mythology it cultivates by presenting first and secondhand testimony from the main characters and the townspeople of Burkittsville. The horrors of the Blair Witch are revealed but not exactly explained through the accounts of the townspeople. The documentary team gets sparse accounts of various crimes and strange happenings such as hermit Rustin Parr kidnapping and murdering several children in the 1940s and the young girl Robin Weaver disappearing and reappearing three days later telling of a mysterious woman whose feet never touch the ground. These threads eventually weave together a picture that lets the audience decide what the Witch is truly capable of.
“The Blair Witch Project” is a great scare and will certainly leave you checking behind your shoulder when you enter a dark room. “The Blair Witch Project” receives a B-plus rating.