The Blair Witch Project
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Review by Matt Heffernan
The Blair Witch Project begins with a single card that reads: "In October of 1994, three student filmmakers dissapeared in the woods near Burkittesville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. One year later, their footage was found."
This is the beginning of a very clever device used to make you believe you are watching real footage of the possibly final days of Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard. The actuality is that these people are improvisational actors and this film is a pseudo-documentary. But unlike This is Spinal Tap and Bob Roberts, this film doesn't admit to its fictionality. These three people are playing themselves, using their actual names. The camera work (consisting of black & white 16mm film and color digital 8mm video) is done by the actors. There are no sets, no crew. The credited writer/directors just gave the three actors a basic idea of what to do, and provided an environment for them to react to.
Heather is supposed to be the director of the intended documentary. Josh operates the 16mm camera and Mike handles the sound with a portable DAT system. What you see in the film is the actual equipment that is being used. The digital camcorder also has a microphone, and some of the soundtrack comes from that. Heather usually operates it, but the others occasionally use it themselves.
They go to a town by the woods where several children were found dead some years ago, and a legend of a witch exists there. Since the surrounding town is called Blair, the term "Blair Witch" is used to refer to the alleged killer. In town, they interview the locals about the Blair Witch and what they remember about the legend. Then they go into the woods and set up camp. One night they are awakened by strange sounds. From there on, more mysterious and frightening thing happen -- until the chilling climax.
The reason I gave this film four stars was that I don't really have a frame of reference for it. As far as I know, pseudo-documentary has never been used for horror. Some horror films have used cinema verité elements, but none to the degree of realism in this film. I could just have easily given it zero stars, since it is both the best and worst film of its kind ever made. But since it is a truly original film, and it was effective and entertaining, I had to give it four. Besides, the purpose of art is to create something new. This is, quite simply, the most original film I have seen in a long time.
This film will no doubt spawn imitators. Maybe they will improve on the original, but at this time there is nothing else quite like it. For now, it is in limited release, but it goes wide July 30. I would highly recommend seeing this, because you don't have that many opportunities to see film history being made. Not only that, but it also goes to show that you can make a film for next to nothing and still have more impact than some effects-laden megamovie.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan