When was the last time you were worried a mutant killer with a hacksaw was going to jump out of your closet and hack you up in to small pieces just for the sake of a massacre? The thought probably doesn’t cross your mind too terribly often.
But when was the last time you were home alone and you heard a creek or groan in the house that turned your hair on end? The makers of The Blair Witch Project probably understood this concept as well as anybody.
Three amateur documentary makers decide to investigate a local urban legend known as the “Blair Witch.” After interviewing a few locals who regale the filmmakers with seemingly absurd stories of kidnapping and murder, the three college students from Maryland; Heather, Josh and Mike, armed with a bevy of recording equipment, trundle in to the woods in October of 1994. As the legend-in-a-legend would have it, they never returned and police are unable to locate them despite an exhaustive search.
A year later, students from the University of Maryland’s Anthropology department discover an old cabin in the woods, in which they recover the original trio’s film cans, DAT tapes and video-cassettes. This film is the raw footage from those tapes.
The beauty of the Blair Witch is the sense of fear and dread created from what you don’t see. A baby crying in the woods. The crunching of footsteps in the night. The disembodied wail of a kidnapped compatriot. There are no special effects, no living dead, no evisceration. The trio become more and more lost in the woods, spooked by an unseen urban legend until, one by one, they start to unravel.
While this leads to some great moments, it is also the weakest link in the film. In order to make a feature length film, the scenes of growing insanity become repetitious. Mike screams in frustration and cries. Josh screams in frustration and cries. Heather, the last to give in to the certainty they are lost in the woods, finally breaks down and, you guessed it, screams and cries. Throw in a dash of in-fighting, and you have what passes for mental breakdown. For what it’s worth the actors do pretty well with what they have been given, they just haven’t been given a whole hell of a lot.
But that’s also the purpose of the film. You aren’t supposed to believe this is a film made for your entertainment but, rather, what you are watching is actual real footage culled and cobbled from the remains of a mysterious disappearance. Executed hand-in-hand with a brilliantly orchestrated online campaign, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez wrote and directed a faux-documentary the likes of which had never been seen. Some people going to see the film actually believed or, at least, pretended to believe, the footage could be real. They created, if not a masterpiece, a film as unique and important to modern horror as I can remember in my lifetime.
Or had they?
Written by Ryan Venson