BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick
What is more frightening: the knowledge that you will die, or death itself? Filmakers Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick posed that question in their innovative blockbuster The Blair Witch Project, a no-budget horror movie filmed with a camcorder by its three unknown stars. With the film's website giving it an amazing, then-unparalleled level of hype, The Blair Witch Project raked in over 240 million dollars worldwide on its way to becoming one of the most talked-about movies of the 1990s. But is it worth all the attention it recieved? Or would it have been better off going missing, just like its characters?
Sometime in October 1994, a student filmmaker (Heather Donahue) prepares to do a school project, a documentary on an urban legend about a witch rumored to haunt the Black Hills Forest outside Burkittsville, Maryland. She hires a cameraman (Josh Leonard) and a sound technician (Michael Williams), and together they interview various Burkittsville citizens before heading into the forest, never to be seen again. A year later, the footage of the missing film crew was discovered. What it contains is the final five days days in the lives of the vanished filmmakers, a chilling descent into insanity. It is a documentation of the increasing bad blood and intolerance between the three, the many conflicts and losses they have, as well as the near-suicidal depression that sets in as they make the realization that they will never escape.
Ever hear the phrase "bump in the night"? It's taken to a whole new level here, building the tension over time, through one intense moment after another. Everything is seen through the eyes of the characters, taking the realism feeling to unprecedented heights. The movie rocks the slow burn, relying more on the performances of its cast more than a monster jumping out to get them. However, the film is not without its flaws. Good God almighty, the flaws are all over this puppy. Heather Donahue is the absolute worst, the most annoying actress I've ever had the displeasure of seeing. Just have a pain-in-the-neck girl screech profanities at the top of her lungs for an hour and a half while dripping snot on the camera, and you'd have Heather Donahue. I'm surprised the two guys didn't tie the gutter-mouth shrew to a tree and left her there to rot. And oddly enough, she's the only one who's had consistent work since. I saw her on an episode of The Outer Limits and a couple of commercials for the Steak & Shake restaurant chain, no lie. Whatever happened to those other guys? I liked Josh Leonard, and as far as I know, he's only done a handful of mostly direct-to-video movies since. (He was pretty good in Madhouse, by the way. Go rent it.)
And boy, were these three goobers stupid. Sure, they lost their map at one point, but wouldn't they remember which way they were heading when they left the car? And wouldn't they think to have a backup map? They had a compass, and you can tell which way is east by watching the sun rise. These three dopes are supposed to be film students, and they screw up a camping trip. If the movie took place in 2004 instead of 1994, they'd all whip out cell phones and call somebody to pick them up. I know that everybody has a cell phone nowadays (I think they're issued to newborns as they exit the womb), but I also know people had them in 1994. They were rare, but they existed. And what's up with all the profanity? They drop the F-bomb at least 133 times in the span of 87 minutes, not to mention the other colorful language throughout the movie. I'm not a prude or anything, but geez. Sometimes you have to think of something a little more creative than profanities to say. I'm also surprised the movie cost 22,000 dollars. I'm sure it all went into fancy editing equipment, camping gear, and the actors' paychecks, because I could make this movie with my camcorder and edit it with my computer, and it would cost no more than a few hundred bucks.
Many of the film's critics dislike the film because there was no way it could live up to the insanely immense hype. Other, more casual viewers were turned off by the fact that there was no visible villain, no big stars, and very little action. It's also drawn heavy comparison to to the little-known 1998 movie The Last Broadcast, a documentary-style film about a New Jersey TV crew that ends up dead while searching the woods for a mythical figure called the "Jersey Devil." One could even find paralells between The Blair Witch Project and the extremely controversial 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust, a fictional movie that centers around the footage shot by an American film crew that were brutally slaughtered by a tribe of savages in the Amazon Rainforest. However, The Blair Witch Project became the most successful independent film ever at the time, and it earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest budget-to-box office ratio, making $10,931 for every one dollar spent.
It's hard to imagine that a no-budget independent movie made with a camcorder and 16-millimeter black and white camera became such a huge hit, and eventually became one of the most spoofed and lampooned movies of all time. Despite the flaws, I think it's worth a watch. If you can keep from getting annoyed at the goofiness of the movie, then you might like it. I'll give The Blair Witch Project three and a half stars and a mild recommendation.
Final Rating: ***˝