Throwback Reviews: 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999)
By Michael Kaye
The Blair Witch Project (Review)
Every film fan has at least one major film that's missing from their repertoire, and I am no exception. Hell, that's basically the reason why I started the segment for the site called "Throwback Reviews," to fill in those holes. Today's filling is quite the necessary one, as a brand new sequel to this late 90's classic is opening this weekend. I am, of course, talking about The Blair Witch Project, written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.
Here's the story. In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.
Despite the fact that I never got to experience this movie in theaters, it's still pretty great. I don't know if I'd go as far as to call it one of my favorite horror films, but it's earned its place in the hall of fame. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the real stars of this film are the writer and director combo of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. For the record, no, this movie didn't start the "found footage" sub-genre (that was Cannibal Holocaust back in 82), but it did popularize it. Part of the reason for that might have something to do with one of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time. Yeah, in 1999, the internet was still relatively an infant, and this was one of the very first movies to ever go "viral" through their official website, which featured a handful of fake interviews and police reports to make the story seem like it actually happened. Am I the only one who sees a connection between this and Orson Welles's legendary radio drama adaptation of The War of the Worlds? Even if it wasn't intentional, I have to believe that was a subconscious influence.
But that's just all the marketing, what about the movie itself? Well, it's a very compelling story. They take full advantage of the concept of "less is more," leaving a lot of the scares to the imagination. You see whatever our three main characters, Heather, Mike and Josh, see while hiking in the woods. Speaking of which, these actors are terrific, and the fact that the dialogue is all improvised makes their performances seem that much more naturalistic. It is a little unfortunate though that the only one to really have a stable career after this film is Joshua Leonard, who's been in TV series such as Bates Motel, Togetherness and Scorpion.
One of the best things about this movie is the sound design. Again, part of the reason I really wish I got to see this in theaters is so I could better appreciate the work that the final sound mixers Harry Cohen and Gerry Lentz contributed to the film. As I said before, "less is more" is essentially the movie's golden rule, and that's why the most effective scares come at night, when the lights are all turned off.
I could keep going all day listing off every single aspect of the film's production, but I want to try to keep this review as concise as possible (so far I'm failing miserably). Eventually I'm going to need to get into some negatives, and while it's not really stuff that bothered me, I can see them being major deal breakers for other people, especially those who REALLY hate the found footage sub-genre.
First off, I'd be lying if I said this movie didn't start off a little on the slow side. To be fair though, it's kind of necessary to set up all the characters and build the suspense, plus it's fun to laugh at how dated some of the product placement is when they're shopping for supplies.
Finally, and this was the deal breaker I was talking about, these characters can be pretty unlikeable. I'm not talking about the acting, I'm strictly speaking in-universe. There's no way in hell I'd be able to last even a day with the constant fighting and screaming between the three of them. These guys are amateurs who have no idea what the hell they're doing, especially Heather, so why anyone would want to work on her documentary is beyond me.
I apologize for the incoherence of this review, but sometimes movies like The Blair Witch Project are hard to talk about when there's so much, yet so little on screen at once. The best way I can sum up my thoughts is this; even if you're not a hardcore horror fan, you should at least give this movie its day in court. This is probably not going to be my last time seeing this movie, as now I've gotten quite intrigued by the mythology, as well as the state of Hollywood in the late 90's.
And now, the floor is yours. Have you seen The Blair Witch Project, and if so what did you think? Also, which horror films populate your hall of fame? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where Adam Wingard helms the long awaited sequel Blair Witch, previously referred to by its working title, The Woods.