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The Blair Witch Project

October 31, 2015

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Actors: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

BlairWitchProjectHeather-300x209.jpg (300×209)

Synopsis: Three filmmakers head into the woods near Burkitsville, Maryland to shoot a documentary about the fabled ‘Blair Witch’….

Review: One of my few concessions to Halloween is to ramp up my horror movie watching in the days before October 31st, and the chance to watch one of the most fabled spookers of all time (and originator of the ‘Found Footage’ subgenre) proved too good to pass up.

So, with over fifteen years perspective, just how good is The Blair Witch Project away from the sheer hype it generated on its release? It’s become fashionable to scoff at the film in recent years, but in my opinion it stands the test of time. Its ‘found footage’ gimmick still hooks despite the conceit being flogged to death by subsequent copycat filmmakers, and other, less obvious elements conspire to make it a deceptively rich film. First, it’s a very ambitious and cine-literate work by directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick. They understand the lure of legend and storytelling to the horror genre, and they cleverly choose to wrap the film up in various Russian Doll layers: there’s the general ‘Blair Witch’ myth, then the documentary filmmakers shooting a pilot treatment about the cult of that story, then there’s what actually happens to the filmmakers as ‘strange things’ start occurring in the woods, before the final layer of reception – that we’re being told this is ‘found footage’, so we know from the outset that the filmmakers didn’t survive.

Added to that meta-referential literacy, Sánchez and Myrick get great mileage out of their cinematography and setting. Forboding woods shot in their late-autumnal glory (i.e. at Halloween time) is a great horror movie ‘look’, and the cris-crossing between the two cameras (one black and white, the other colour) adds to tension as perspective and ‘players’ change throughout the action. To nitpick, the only marginal misstep is according too much time to the second act (the filmmakers slowly unravelling in the woods), leaving little time for the exploring of the myth at the beginning, and the sinister playing out of the legend at the end. That aside, The Blair Witch Project stands the test of time as an exemplary horror film in its own right, as well as in its more fêted guise as a memorable pop cultural reference point. (October 2015)

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