The Blair Witch Project, 1999
Directed by: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
In a celebration of horror films found-footage films must be included, and where better to start than the found-footage film which made everyone realise there’s money to be made in them, The Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch Project is about a trio of wannabe filmmakers who travel to the Black Hills in Maryland to film a documentary about the legend known as the Blair Witch. From start to finish the whole film is found footage, and switches from their own tale of their journey to the recordings they intend on using for their documentary. While in the woods, though, they get lost (which isn’t helped when one of them throws the map away, providing more proof that characters in horror films are the stupidest of all genres) and every night strange things start happening, which get more serious with each passing night.
I never liked this film much growing up (which wasn’t anything to do with it being found-footage as I really liked Cloverfield, but due to it being a pretty terrible film) and my opinion hasn’t changed all that much watching it some 15 years later. While I can appreciate the cleverness of it, and there are plenty of praise-worthy parts, there are also plenty of terrible moments, and a horrible ending, that sour me on it.
To start with the compliments, though, and the writing and acting in this film are pretty decent. They all come across as pretty genuine, which is quite important in a found-footage style, although there are a few moments where those compliments are thrown away. In one moment where they’re discussing the map (which had gone missing, but that was all they knew) it sounds so wooden in their acting and so scripting in their dialogue that it seems completely out of place. From looking like something I would have filmed with my family on holiday it suddenly became a film with poor actors for a moment. Its presentation was also pretty decent, too, and that is without taking into effect the found-footage. It genuinely looks like a film we all have (well, anyone who was filming in the late 90’s), and this is added brilliantly with the location; I found it amazing how an open, never-ending woodland area can be so claustrophobic. I remember watching Dead End when I was younger and I got a bit freaked when I realised they were driving in one big circle, and the same feeling came on me with this; when they realise that, despite heading in one direction, they’ve walked in a big circle it just adds to them being lost and having no escape, and managing to enact a claustrophobic feeling in an open area is really good.
However, its presentation isn’t all good. Being found-footage I expect moments of confusion to occur, but there are times (mainly because it films a lot at night) where the camera goes completely black, but the chances are in reality you would be able to see, however faintly, certain things in the distance, but a camera cannot pick up on that without proper lighting or night-vision (which they use later on, oddly), so we have this moment of them being scared in the darkness and it never quite gave me the same fear which I assumed they were going for in a scene like this. Also there are moments that look so obviously edited that it ruined the mystique of the stylistic approach somewhat, namely when the two cameras switched from one to another on screen but Heather’s dialogue isn’t remotely broken up or distorted, it flows from one camera to another despite this supposedly being the footage they discovered. And unfortunately being found-footage the ending looked horrible as we couldn’t easily make out what was happening and them switching between two cameras ruined its feel, it would have looked so much better had we of stuck with one camera throughout the exchange.
Certainly a major film for what it did to the genre (paving the way for good films of the same ilk, Cloverfield, and really, really, really, really bad ones, Paranormal Activity, to be made) and its ending, despite being re-shot for a better one but still ending up using the original, is quite horrifying in its own way. It just lacks from such a small run time (80 minutes) and the ending comes about so suddenly that even after it ended I was questioning where the rest of the film was. Not my favourite horror film, but it certainly had its praise-worthy moments in places.
Plot: * * Acting: * * * Writing: * * * Presentation: * *