I can feel Evil Bill shaking with anger at the inclusion of this; however, I decided that after many years of not seeing this due to watching it “too any times”, I felt it was time to refresh my memory for this review. Holy cow!!! After so many viewings, and knowing the plot inside out, I must say it had more effect on me the other day than in all those other viewings. Maybe it was the fact that i was REALLY watching it this time, analysing it and trying to get everything in my head so I could write about it later. Maybe, and probably more-so, it’s down to the fact that the Blair Witch Project IS that terrifying, it most certainly IS that original, and it most definitely STILL has the power to disturb and unsettle, even after years of multiple viewings, this little gem STILL managed to haunt me and leave me slightly shaky at the end. Proof, then, that the Blair Witch Project IS a damn fine lesson in terror.
If we head back to the very start, and the initial advertising that went into this film, and you really cannot fault what directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez stirred up. Their use of the internet to “promote” the story of how three would-be film-makers headed off into the woods at Burketsville to film a documentary on the so-called Blair Witch, and never returned, was the first of its kind and was, in fact, genius! Everyone was talking about it, and it’s fair to say that the advertising campaign bloody well worked! Then, there was the talk of people fainting whilst watching it, and running out of cinemas either in tears or being sick. The sickness was thanks to yet another original and now hugely copied idea of having the stars of the film actually film themselves. This leads to various shaky camera angles, which subsequently lead to people suffering from “motion sickness”. So, the stories were true, the film DID make people sick, just not in the way we had hoped.
The film premiered at Cannes, which is where it really caused a stir, and i so wish i was there to witness this film BEFORE people like “Empire” leaked that the directors had handed their three actors a script, sent them off into the woods, and then “attacked” the actors at night without their knowledge as to who was doing it. To say this was slightly fucked-up is very true indeed, but hey, what a fantastic idea, the actors didn’t sue, they made a shit-load of money and thanks to the actors not knowing, what we actually see on screen is GENUINE fear! So, back to my original point at Cannes. People got to see this little known (then) film/documentary called the Blair Witch Project, there were rumours that it was actually REAL, and that the filmmakers had disappeared. So, when people saw this at Cannes, without any knowledge as to how the film had been made, they thought it was real and the poor buggers were terrified! Rewind the clocks to when you first saw this film after all the hype, and rewind a bit more and have a think how this would’ve looked had you no knowledge of how it was done, some scary shit!
So, the Blair Witch Project, a brilliantly made work of real terror, captured excellently by a pair of director’s having the time of their lives running round in the woods at night scaring the living hell out of Heather, Josh and Mike. It’s sadistic, but makes for some truly compelling viewing. The actors themselves could not have been better suited. Josh, the guy who has to get back to work and his girlfriend, the laid back but deep thinking almost stoner like guy who seems a nice bloke to talk to and doesn’t lose his cool much, but when he does, he needs time to himself to sort his head out. Mike, the everyday guy, i liked Mike best, the practical joker, the fun guy, the guy who speaks a lot of sense, but is also willing to throw away the map because “it aint doing shit!”. And then there’s Heather. The perfect perfect irritant to Mike and Josh’s laid back characters. Without Heather, the Blair Witch would not have been half as good. Yes she’s annoying and pushy and always has to have the last word, but she’s determined, and, thankfully, wants to keep on filming, because if she hadn’t, well, we wouldn’t have a fucking film!!! Brilliant characters who at the start are having fun, getting to know each other and are genuinely looking forward to making a documentary on this witch.
An all too brief history of the witch is told through various interviews over the first five minutes or so, and I don’t know if these were acted or genuine, but to me, it’s too honest to be acted. And then there’s Mary, the strange lady who had an experience with the Blair Witch as a child. Spooky! Not long into their trip into the woods, our three “heroes” get plenty of interviews (another great moment with some fishermen), they get some strange burial ground on tape, they also get “Coffin Rock” on tape, they then get lost! Oh, and on top of that, each night they hear strange noises in the woods!
What we then get, for a good hour is arguments and Josh, Mike and Heather getting more scared by the minute. Added to this fact is they have no food, very little water, oh, and they’ve run out of cigarettes. We can do nothing but watch, hopelessly as these poor chaps fall apart right in front of us and this is Blair Witches real power. It’s more a study in terror, an experiment in seeing just how far people can be pushed until they go right over the edge. The fun is sucked out of them, they look tired, they look ill, they all look upset and fuckin petrified. They are lost and even start asking the question of if they will actually get home again. It’s upsetting to watch, and the fact we know it is genuine fear in their eyes makes it all the more disturbing. We are watching three normal, everyday people lose their minds. Some of the arguments are hard to watch. One particular is where Josh forces the camera on Heather shouting “here’s your motivation” as he makes a point that she still wants to make movies whilst him and Mike want to get home. Heather eventually breaks down and cries, and it is uncomfortable and very hard to watch. The scares do work too, particularly the scene with what sounds like children outside, and then the tents being hit by what seems like lots of ghostly children as the filmmakers bolt out of the tents, in the middle of the night in the pitch black. A slight glimpse of Heather as she turns to crouch down sums up how they’re all feeling, she looks absolutely terrified and you CANNOT act that scared no matter who you are. You can tell the difference between acting and realism, and that look was real.
Josh disappears, and Heather and Mike are left alone. Josh has gone after having his bag ripped open and having “slimy shit” left on it, again, his look of astonishment, and feeling like he’s been singled out is genuine and upsetting. Again, Heathers plea on the camera has been mocked and laughed at by some but it is deeply disturbing as she truly believes they may not be going home. The fear in her eyes says a thousand words, and those are REAL tears. As we head toward the end you actually feel like you can’t watch these poor guys be punished anymore and it’s almost a relief. However, the ending, as they chase who they think is Josh into an old abandoned house, is the most frightening part. Heathers screams, yes, she has screamed a lot during the film, but these screams are far more desperate, and when separated from Mike she is screaming for him like her life depended on it. Mike is terrified, and shouting so excitedly like he’s found some lost treasure “I hear him downstairs!!!” Then we have the final scene, a genuine shocker, pure brilliance and the absolute perfect way to end the film, and this is what upset so many people. It’s a simple, highly effective and i suppose, savage ending that leaves you chilled to the bone. The hairs on the back on your neck will stand up, you will find yourself starring at the TV questioning what you just watched and asking yourself “should I really have enjoyed that?” Honestly, no, you shouldn’t, because Heather, Mike and Josh most certainly didn’t. But, what you have just watched is a work of art, a stroke of genius that should be applauded and you should maybe not enjoy it, but be in complete awe of it, totally amazed and hopefully, incredibly affected. Blair Witch will stand the test of time because it was a first of its kind, everything about it from the marketing to the film itself is highly original. It will continue to scare and upset for years to come, and from my recent experience watching it again, it will lose none of it power.