The Blair Witch Project
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Starring Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Released on July 30, 1999
Running time: 1h 21m
Rated R (Suggested rating after editing out all F-bombs: PG-13 for language, some drug use, and a sexual reference. Whether or not the movie is frightening is up to the viewer.) F-bombs per minute: 1.925
Whenever I see a trailer for an upcoming horror movie that’s actually getting a theatrical release, I definitely look forward to it coming out, but I am usually rather hesitant to let it build up positive hype in my mind. That being said, I was looking forward to a found-footage horror movie known as The Woods. The damn creepy cover caught my attention, the refusal to reveal little more than a very basic description of a premise intrigued me, and the actually creepy trailer further pulled me in, as it barely revealed any more plot elements than I had already received. Obviously, The Woods had a Blair-Witch-Project-type idea, but since I wasn’t a fan of The Blair Witch Project, I was hoping that The Woods could deftly execute what (in my eyes) The Blair Witch Project failed to do. Plus, the same plot of The Blair Witch Project had been done and redone by an inordinate number of found-footage movies since its debut. I didn’t go to Comic-Con in San Diego back in July, so I wasn’t there for the big reveal. But by mere happenstance, I came across an ad playing before a YouTube video. I figured that The Woods was upping its marketing. But then, to my surprise, bewilderment, and anger, I heard a line asking if someone believed in the legends about the Blair Witch. A “No” involuntarily slipped out of my mouth. The trailer continued to play, revealing a few plot points. The brother of Heather from the original Blair Witch Project, accompanied by some friends, is going out into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to go look for his sister … a mere twenty years later. What?! I’m pretty sure that Heather never mentioned that she had a little brother, especially one that would be roughly college age twenty years after the first film. How is this brother only in his twenties when Heather, if she was still alive, would be in her forties today? Did their mother have Heather’s brother well into her forties? And why in heaven’s name has Heather’s brother waited an entire twenty years before searching for her? Anyway, as more “No’s” slipped out of my mouth, growing in frequency and volume, I refused to let myself believe that this was an ungodly belated sequel to The Blair Witch Project until the reveal of the title at the end: Blair Witch. Ugh. Well, that means I can’t just refer to the original as Blair Witch, as that would just be confusing. I know perfectly well that the plot of the actual movie explains these issues, but the plot described by the trailer didn’t make much sense to me.
You can bet your ass Blair Witch will get a review…someday.
Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while know that I look at The Blair Witch Project as an unscary, crushingly boring vomitorium of shaky-cam. But with … sigh … another sequel coming out, I figured I’d have to review it.
The movie begins with some text, saying that in 1994, three people set off into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to shoot a documentary about the Blair Witch. They disappeared. Their footage was found a year later by people who went into the exact same woods, found and went into the exact same house where the documentarians died, had absolutely nothing bad happen to them, and gave the footage to Artisan Entertainment. Either that, or the Blair Witch mailed the footage to Artisan Entertainment herself, where they spent sixty grand to cobble together an eighty-minute movie out of the footage, scam audiences with an alleged supernatural snuff film, and make a gigantic profit. Way to go, movie! Before the footage has even started running, we already have a huge, huge plothole! There’s a reason that this genre of film is known as found-footage. FOUND-footage. Footage that has been FOUND. Meaning that there had to be a plausible way for somebody to find this footage. Wouldn’t the Blair Witch have destroyed the footage? Wouldn’t she have terrorized and killed anyone else in that area? How the crap did somebody find this footage? This is pretty severe, especially considering that you garnered a ton of critical and audience appraisal, and even managed to convince some amazingly ignorant morons that the footage shown in the movie was actually real! Seriously, you stupid cretins, did you actually think that any studio would ever release an actual snuff film?
The footage begins. Heather (Donahue) explains that she’s heading a film crew of three, who are heading out into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to shoot a documentary about the Blair Witch. Who or what is the Blair Witch? I don’t know! The movie provides a few legends of creepy crap that happened in the woods a while ago, but we never actually get an explanation as to who or what the Blair Witch is. I know that a little while before The Blair Witch Project came out, there was a mockumentary released detailing who the Blair Witch was and what she did. But I’m not reviewing the mockumentary. I’m reviewing the movie. And for the movie to not even give us the slightest hint as to who or what the Blair Witch was is another grievous mistake. Heather shows us some books that she read up on, apparently giving her all the knowledge in the world about the Blair Witch, and surviving in the wild. One of these books has a title that has to do with what to do when you get lost in the woods. Remember this book. You’ll know why when it happens. Heather does a little more explaining.
Josh (Leonard) arrives at Heather’s place. Hey, it’s the only one of the trio that will actually have an acting career in his future! That’s what I recognize him from: he was Red in Shark Night! Dammit. Josh has somehow procured a professional moviemaking camera. At least, it looks like it. The actual film quality of the camera itself is definitely less than professional. And Josh and Heather swear a lot. I could deal with this normally, but the way that they swear is just so casual. I swear sparingly; I only ever use mild swears when under duress. I do not swear anywhere near as casually as Heather and Josh do.
And eventually Mike (Williams) as well. Apparently Mike was hired by Heather. What was the process for hiring him? Did she post an ad in a newspaper or on the Internet? How carefully did she have to word her ad? How did Heather contact Mike or vice versa? What was the process of figuring out all the business and making the necessary arrangements? By the way, Mike is actually a mom’s basement dweller. Way to go, Mike.
Throughout this scene, another major problem with the movie is revealed: the excessively shaky camera. I myself am particularly resilient to motion sickness, but by the time the movie was over, I legitimately felt a little queasy.
As the trio drive to Burkittsville from … wherever Heather lives … they start discussing what’ll be happening. Heather and Josh mention that they brought along enough camera battery power that they could power a “small-world” (I think you mean “third-world”) country for a month. That way, we can’t call them out for the bullhonky of their cameras being able to last seven days while being on all the damn time.
As these scenes progressed, I couldn’t help but notice that the dialogue would constantly flip between natural and unnaturally dumb often and seemingly at random. Fun fact: no scene was scripted. I don’t know what the process was for the pre-woods scenes, but for each day of shooting, the trio was alone and at their own wits in the woods. The filmmakers would drop off a day’s rations and notes telling the actors how each scene the next day was supposed to go every night when they were asleep. I presume that a similar process was used in the pre-woods scenes, with the actors only having a cue card telling them precisely how each scene was supposed to go. Want to know how I can tell? Here’s how. In the earlier scenes, as each scene begins, the actors are a little restrained. As the scene goes on, the actors start to get more comfortable with the scene. But just as the actors start coming out of their shells and start really selling the dialogue and making it feel natural, they realize that they can’t let the scene go on too long, and that they need to keep to the plot. This would happen when they occasionally would almost get too close to straying from the topic, and one of the actors would need to steer them back to the point. This process happened less and less and became less and less noticeable, and the actors would get better at staying on point and making the dialogue feel a little more natural, but this problem never truly went away, and I never found myself thinking that these could be real people.
The trio arrive at the graveyard in Burkittsville, and they prepare to shoot the first scene. Question: How exactly are they planning to shoot this documentary? What are they planning to shoot? The only locations at which they actually do any documentary filming are the graveyard, the town itself when they interview the locals, Coffin Rock, and the place with the seven rock piles. Though they’re making a documentary, what are they planning to film? Are they planning to make this a legitimate, full-length documentary? A forty-five minute one? Or a high-school-level one that’s maybe ten minutes long? Why are they not using better cameras? Why does one of their cameras film in black and white? I’m not a tech expert, but I’m pretty sure cameras in the 1990s were at least capable of color. Can we see the script of this supposed documentary? Also, why are you even bothering to use a slate? Your cameras clearly are designed to record audio as well as video. That is, unless there’s some sound equipment that we never see, even when the “documentary” is not being filmed. Professional moviemaking cameras typically record only video rather than both video and audio. The audio is taken care of with whatever sound equipment is in use. The point of the slate is to give the editor the ability to see the exact point where the video and audio are to be synced in post-production. Do you want to know which infamous movie made the mistake of using a slate even when there was no sound equipment in use? Manos: The Hands of Fate. Way to go, movie. Way to friggin go.
By the way, whoever edited this in post needs to put in more effort. In the first actual documentary scene in which Heather introduces us to the town of Burkittsville, formerly known as Blair, and has Josh get some shots of the graveyard, the audio is just slightly ahead of the video. But all in all, it’s not a bad first documentary scene. The opening narration by Heather draws you in, and the opening shots are decently foreboding. If only the rest of the movie was like this. But why was this scene shot in black and white?
The trio ventures down into Burkittsville and start interviewing some of the locals, which were just deftly placed actors. We hear some of the legends about creepy crap in the woods that happened a while ago. Like The Final Project, these legends are also unconvincing, vague, contradictory, and at times even self-contradictory, but nowhere near as bad as The Final Project. This is the kind of naïveté associated with popular cryptid folklore like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil or the Loch Ness Monster or the Chupacabra or the Yeti or the Goatman or the Kraken or the Mothman or wendigoes or skinwalkers or Tahoe Tessie (I actually lived just east of Lake Tahoe for thirteen and a half years, yet I never encountered Tessie. Poop.). I was able to make out some of the legends told, and I wrote them down here.
- In the fall or winter of 1940 (and only 1940 for some reason), Mr. Parr the hermit killed seven kids. He somehow abducted the kids from the town, took them on the multiple-day hike through the woods to his house, made sure nothing bad happened to them before they got there, and killed them. He took the kids down into the basement by twos, made one face the corner, killed the second, and then killed the first.
- Two hunters camped near the cabin that the Blair Witch apparently haunts. They disappeared.
- Mary Brown, an old lady deemed insane by the town’s citizens, allegedly had an encounter with the Blair Witch herself. She was up fishing with her dad at a creek in the woods. She got an eerie feeling that something was near. It was an exceptionally hairy woman with a strange-looking face that was wearing a shawl.
That night, the trio stay at a hotel. There are only two beds; what are the sleeping arrangements? Are the two guys going to share a bed? Is one going to sleep on the floor? How is their hard drinking going to affect their decision? Is there going to be some alcohol-induced making with the sexies? If so, why can’t we see it? I’m sure it’ll be more entertaining to watch than the rest of this movie. Also, I further stress that these characters really need to stop swearing so casually.
The next day, the trio films a pair of middle-aged guys fishing in the creek. One fisherman tells us of another legend: Sometime in the late 1800s, a little girl named Robin Weaver disappeared into the woods. Three days later, she inexplicably showed up on her grandma’s porch, babbling about an old woman whose feet never touched the ground. The other fisherman tells the trio about his own experience. One day, he was fishing in the creek when he saw a white misty thing up by a tree in the woods. It came out of the water, went up the side of the trees, and disappeared over them. Again, we’ve been told all sorts of stories about creepy crap happening in the woods, but we’ve never even gotten a hint of who or what the Blair Witch was. And though the trio have been talking a lot about Coffin Rock and implying that something bad happened there, I’m not complaining about it, as what happened there will be elaborated on soon.
And now, with only an hour and six minutes left in the movie, we finally, blessedly enter the woods. It’s as if the parting shot of the car (with a water bottle still on top) is foreshadowing.
We get to Coffin Rock, where Heather narrates, telling us what happened there. Five men were tortured. They were bound to each other, positioned one behind the next. Each man’s hand was in the next one’s pants. The men told the search party to leave and mind their own business. Hours later, the men were found decapitated and very tired. The search party left to find the authorities, but when they returned, the bodies were gone. All that was found was a Streisand CD and a mini-disc single of “It’s Raining Men.” Ah, who am I kidding? That’s the explanation given in Steve Odekerk’s spoof The Blair Thumb. You can find it on Youtube. Check it out, it’s hilarious. In fact, check out the rest of Steve Odekerk’s Thumbs series.
This is what actually happened at Coffin Rock: Five men were tortured. Each man’s hands was bound to the next man’s feet. They pretty much formed a sort of structure. Their intestines had been crudely torn out. Indecipherable symbols were carved into their faces. When the bodies were found by a search party, the search party returned to town to fetch the authorities. But when they returned, the bodies were gone. However, not all evidence of the bodies was gone, as vultures were skulking about around where the bodies were, and the stench of death was still in the air.
Nothing else interesting happens during the day. That night, the trio set up camp and go to sleep.
The next morning, Josh says that he heard noises in the night, ranging from branches breaking to some sort of cackling. Amidst all the unnecessarily recorded padding, the noises last night were not? What the hell? The group sets out toward their next destination in the woods, despite uncertainty over their location. During the hike, Mike starts wondering if Heather really knows where they are, and starts insinuating that they may be lost. Dudes, come on, it’s really way too early to start getting into the “we’re lost” squabbles. We’re barely twenty minutes into this movie as it is. By the way, get used to this; arguing takes up about half the movie, and most of that arguing is about being lost. Regardless of how lost the trio might be, judging from the sounds in the background, they’re near the creek.
Later that day, either Josh or Mike (I can’t be bothered to remember which) starts asking Heather why exactly she’s filming everything. I don’t remember Heather’s exact explanation, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with it being for the documentary, or for their own personal enjoyment when they get back. Exactly, Heather. You’re supposed to be filming a documentary. Why is she filming every little petty squabble? Won’t she run out of storage space on that camera eventually?
The trio eventually finds what appears to be an old cemetery with seven piles of rocks, presumably one for each kid Mr. Parr the hermit killed. Josh accidentally disturbs one of the piles. This is the last we see of the actual shooting of the documentary being an actual part of the plot.
More uninteresting BS happens that day, and the trio set up camp and go to sleep.
This night is the first night during which the trio is actually recording. Okay! It’s a scary night! I’m going to try extra hard to be scared by this by letting my imagination fill in the bla – *SLAP* No! I tried that with Paranormal Inactivity, and you know how well that went! I got burned too badly! I’m not doing that again! Besides, all that happens that night is that the trio hears some branches breaking. And yes, I get it. What is unseen can be scarier than what is seen. But here’s the problem: the unseen but ever-present supernatural force needs to be established as a legitimate threat. When I watch these nightly sequences, all I can do is facepalm as I imagine the crew out in the woods, breaking branches and screwing with the cast. But even if this supernatural force was actually established as a threat, I certainly don’t feel any threat because our characters are not developed or likable. One of the most basic fears in any movie, horror or not, is the fear that developed characters that we love and/or sympathize with could die. And that is something that the makers of The Blair Witch Project did not understand. At least, at certain times in the movie, we can sympathize with the characters and their situation. Heather, Josh, and Mike are definitely better characters than Katie and Meekah in Paranormal Inactivity. Regardless of Katie and Meekah’s stance on the character development scale, they were completely unlikable. Though The Blair Witch Project is, like any legitimately good horror movie, character-focused and character-driven, there is one major flaw with the characters themselves that shoots this movie in the foot: we know that all three of these characters die at the end. They’re screwed. Therefore, we have no reason to get attached to them.
The next day, the trio attempts to hike back to their car, but cannot find it before dark. Insert another stupid argument about being lost. You know, why can’t Heather just pull out the map and mark with a pen where they are and where they are going? They set up camp and go to sleep. That night, they hear branches snapping and possible footsteps. It is over a minute of total darkness, occasional blurry footage, occasional talking, and us looking at nothing.
The next morning, the trio are unnerved to discover three small piles of rocks outside their tent. One for each of them. Oooh. Whatever force made a ton of noise last night while breaking branches apparently made no noise whatsoever while stacking the rock piles. When packing up that morning, Heather finds that her map is missing. Well, you’re near the creek. Follow the creek, and it will lead you back to Burkittsville! Even if it isn’t the right creek, follow it; it has to go somewhere! Better yet, it’s a source of water! Sure, the water may have bacteria in it, but at least it’s something! Plus, if you were smart, you should have brought a portable filter, a pot to boil it in, or chemical disinfectants purely for use on the trail! But they decide to start hiking south rather than start following the creek. YOU MORONS! YOU HAD A BOOK THAT DETAILS WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET LOST IN THE WOODS! DID YOU NOT EVEN READ IT? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
A while into the hike, Mike reveals that he kicked the map into the creek yesterday. WHY IN THE NAME OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY WOULD HE DO THAT?! He says that the map is worthless, despite the fact that during this documentary shoot, the trio has actually found the places that they need to go to. Plus, when and how did Mike get his hands on the map? By digging through Heather’s stuff? And how did Mike not expect that he’d get his stupid ass kicked for this? Obviously, Heather and Josh get super pissed and overact by screaming their lines. The trio resumes heading south. They come across a darker part of the woods with humanoid stick figures hanging from the trees. Ooookay? Why? Is that supposed to mean something? Is there somebody up there trolling them by hanging stick figures from the trees?
As the day goes on, another point brought up by people who love this movie starts coming into play: the ever-increasing hopelessness of the situation. And, to be honest, I understand this one, as I actually get that vibe. But only slightly. But yes, I do understand. It makes you ask, “What would I do in this situation?” Well, not only would I have followed the creek back to Burkittsville, but I would have spent the extra money to hire a wilderness survival expert just in case we got lost.
That night, the trio hears an owl hooting that warps into a quiet warped voice, which is then accompanied by a couple more voices. Suddenly, the tent starts violently shaking. I can just imagine the filmmakers struggling to stifle their laughter as they shake the hell out of the tent. The trio, making sure to grab their cameras, flees the tent into the total darkness. Heather drops a random
HEATHER: What the f-ck is that?!
even though she’s really just pointing out nothing. This is because Josh was filming at the time. He was supposed to turn the camera toward a crew member wrapped in gauze, but in the only usable take, Josh didn’t turn the camera enough. WHY NOT JUST RESHOOT THE SCENE?! The trio flee into the woods and wait there until dawn. And somehow, none of the trio got any footage of anything during the entire attack.
The next morning, the trio returns to their camp to find that their stuff is strewn all over the place. Josh’s stuff is covered in some sort of slime. Why just Josh? The trio pack up and head out, only to discover that they spent all of yesterday going in a big circle, even though they were heading south all day. The Blair Witch knows how to screw with a compass! OH NO! I TOLD YOU THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE FOLLOWED THE CREEK! So the trio decides to head east. How exactly are they getting food or water? Are none of them complaining about body odor? I know that the filmmakers left them a day’s rations every night, but come on. Later, Josh goes ballistic at Heather, taunting her for their situation and that she constantly records what’s going on.
No filming happens that night, but the next morning, we see that Josh has gone missing. I don’t even know why Heather’s still filming. She has no reason to. Mike and Heather continue to acknowledge the hopelessness of their situation as we enter the final twenty minutes of the movie.
That night, the trio hears agonized shouts in the distance, presumably coming from Josh. Mike and Heather unsuccessfully try to find him, and return to the tent.
The next morning, Heather finds a bundle of twigs outside of the tent bound together with a strip of Josh’s shirt. She opens it and finds a bloody scrap of Josh’s shirt containing a finger, hair, teeth, and something that’s either a tongue or an ear. At least, that’s what the Internet told me. I could barely tell. And for some reason, she doesn’t show this to Mike.
Not much happens that day. That night, we see the iconic scene of Heather’s tearful confession, apology, and cry for help. She apologizes to her family and the families of Josh and Mike, takes full responsibility for their situation, and says that something evil is hunting them. Hunting? No; hunting implies that the Blair Witch hasn’t found them. The phrase you’re looking for is “trolled”. Later, Mike and Heather hear cries in the woods, presumably from Josh, and they go out to find him, making sure to bring both cameras along. Why would they even bring one camera, let alone both? Yes, they both have lights on them, but do neither of them have flashlights? They inexplicably come across an abandoned, rundown house. Wait, this is the climax? There has been so little buildup! Even the gravity of the situation hasn’t helped! The trio goes into the house, thinking that this is where Josh’s cries are emanating from.
STRESSY (The Blair Thumb): It’s dark, it’s abandoned, it’s spooky! Let’s go inside!
The trio run through the house looking for Josh. It is here that the shaking of the cameras becomes vomit-inducing. We clearly see bloody handprints all over the walls. That, and we see odd symbols that have been directly printed on the walls. After Mike goes upstairs, thinking Josh is there, he all of a sudden thinks that Josh is down in the basement, and goes down there. Yes! You should totally go down into the basement! Also, why did he go upstairs to begin with? Mike is much faster than Heather, leaving her eating his dust as he sprints down into the basement. A sound is heard, and Mike suddenly drops his camera and goes silent. A screaming Heather follows Mike into the basement, and she sees Mike facing the corner. Something happens to Heather, and she too drops her camera and goes silent. The footage ends there, making the final eight minutes of the movie entirely buildup to a crazy, mind-blowing climax that never comes. Looks like I can’t blame The Final Project for using that insipid idea anymore. Ouch. I know that the final sequence was supposed to mirror the story of Mr. Parr the hermit, but unless you were paying really close attention, you would probably have forgotten that. Plus, how did Mike get forced to stand in the corner while whatever entity killed Heather? He’s a grown-ass hunkin’ man!
And the movie further shoots itself in the foot by putting the “the characters and events in this film are fictitious” disclaimer in the credits.
As the climax played out, my interest began to perk up, but then the movie just abruptly ended. I sat there, confused, thinking That’s it? Where was the fear that everyone spoke about? Where is it? Did it leave because it was too bored? Where did it go? I’m going to find it! I watched the movie a second time, and realized, There was no fear there to begin with.
I’m going to be brutally honest here: I really wanted to like this movie. I really did. In fact, on my first viewing for this review, I legitimately thought I must have missed something. I truly wanted to be like almost every other critic that saw something in this movie that I didn’t. I almost wanted to give this movie a high rating just because every other critic must have seen something else in this movie that I missed. I wondered if we’d seen the same movie. I watched it once more and realized that I was right. Any hope I’d had for this movie being good was a mere delusion.
Had this film been a student project, it wouldn’t have been too bad. Everything fit in its place. However, judging by how short my description and nitpicking of the plot was, the overall plot is over in ten minutes. Heck, it’s barely a plot. It’s just a sequence of events. And when the overall plot is so thin, the filmmakers and actors pad the runtime to the nth degree with profanity, melodrama, arguing, stereotypical horror mistakes, and more padding. I had much difficulty feeling anything for a trio of naïve, reckless, ignorant, and stupid people gallivanting off into the woods. Their serious lack of even basic common sense completely disconnects any feeling I might have had for them. Any sense of realism was repeatedly shattered by the characters’ unrealistic and stupid actions. I might have been able to let that slide if the characters were developed and likable, and if the actors had managed to give convincing performances. Unfortunately, I got no such luxury. It shouldn’t have to be a luxury; it should be a given! If watching a trio of moronic, vulgar twentysomethings who are too young to be Generation Xers and too old to be millennials who have no idea how to survive in the wild going bonkers and shouting the F-word for eighty minutes sounds like something you’ll love, then you’ll probably love this. If you’re lost, don’t throw away your map. Stick to the river. Maybe you should have brought along a cell phone or a GPS or something.
Maybe to make the movie more immersive, the movie should have shown us newspaper clippings or news reports related to the disappearances or what Mr. Parr the hermit did. That reminds me – the stories told never actually came into play later, save for Mr. Parr the hermit’s house being the centerpiece of the final scene. But you’d have to have known it already before you watched the final scene, because you will almost certainly have forgotten it.
The movie flounders about helplessly, sinking ever deeper into the bog, thanks to its desperate need of a cohesive script, which keeps it from rising above urban legends such as “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”. All the movie would need would be a hook hanging from the car door. Virtually every line is improvised, and it shows, with the dialogue ranging from not-quite-natural to random noise. The basic story elements float freely away as the movie sinks deeper. And F-bombs are there in abundance. At least Joe Pesci’s constant usage of the F-word in Goodfellas contributed to the plot of that movie and to his character definition.
Having read a lot of King, Barker, and Lovecraft, the idea behind TBWP sounds great. It could almost be the inspiration for an X-Files episode. Three documentarians go into the woods of southern New England and go bonkers when faced with eldritch horror. Sounds cool, right, if not particularly original?
CENK UYGUR: Right? Of course!
The problem is that the horror is so unspeakable and so eldritch that it becomes unfilmable. We get zero explanation of the Blair Witch’s nature or who or what she is. I’m not saying that we needed footage of her; I’m saying that we needed story-provided closure.
What TBWP needed was not a larger budget (except to rent or buy better cameras), special effects, computers, or big name stars. It needed actual screenwriting. It needed actual and natural dialogue. It needed better-written characters. Unfortunately, the actual filmmakers had very little to do; they just had to cobble together the footage into a semi-coherent narrative.
It wasn’t scary in the slightest. The documentary-type feel was perhaps the only redeeming quality, but it was completely negated by the shaking of the camera. It could have been frightening and potentially disturbing, but a movie needs to go the extra mile, to go beyond real life and pull the viewer in. It needs to be riveting. We need to be immersed in the movie. Unfortunately, it’s the one thing a scary movie should never be: boring. And when it wasn’t boring, it was annoying.
Yes, I get that this movie utilizes the idea that what is unseen can be scarier than what is seen, and letting the audience’s imaginations fill in the blanks. But much of this film’s die-hard fans claim that TBWP is some brilliant art film that pioneered this concept (yes it is u f*kig fagaht). Bullhonky. Val Lewton did the same thing infinitely better during the 1940s with various horror films that are now classics of the genre, such as Cat People and The Seventh Victim. And then, in 1963, Robert Wise came along and blew those out of the water with The Haunting. Those movies were good because they were good movies first. They used sound dramatically to create terror. In The Haunting, the viewer never saw the horrible supernatural entities that haunt Hill House. This was achieved through the idea that we didn’t know whether the events happened through supernatural means, or whether it was all in the mentally unstable mind of Eleanor. The lack of gore and the wild imagination of the viewer is all that’s necessary for an unnerving experience. The house was basically the main character. The terror relied almost entirely on atmosphere. All three of these movies I have mentioned are all acclaimed classics, and all three achieved a particularly high level of fear without ever showing the monster. Unfortunately, the indie film community disowns these because they’re in black and white. Remember, this is the same indie community that hated The Texas Chain Saw Massacre because they thought of it as nothing but gratuitous violence purely for the sake of gratuitous violence (bcuz it is u f*kin fagot), and grabbed you by the collar and screamed praises for The Blair Witch Project into your ears because it allegedly had “deeper meanings”.
But in TBWP, the device of not showing the supernatural force feels less like an artistic choice and more like having three twentysomethings run around the woods, pretend to be scared out of their wits, edit it down to eighty minutes, and pass it off as a film. Admittedly, it’s clever. Even Lewton used this idea out of necessity. But he did so because he realized its dramatic potential. But even if this idea had actually been pioneered by TBWP, it wouldn’t matter, because the film itself fails by ripping off a long-dead gimmick. It’s cheap and insulting. I certainly didn’t want to see a crapload of CGI (perish the thought), but basic competence was desperately needed. I see and understand what the filmmakers were going for, but the results do not justify the premise. The ends do not justify the means. The footage itself shows no evidence that anything actually supernatural happens in the woods, other than the trio getting lost. Fans piece the movie together and tell some sort of story about a supernatural murder spree, but to me, it looks more like a case of hysteria. Admittedly, that could have worked, had the movie actually given us a balance of things that could be supernatural and things that could have just been mental projections. Heck, the movie would have been more interesting if the movie was from the witch’s perspective as she is pitted against a professional documentary crew. It’d be amazing to see the Blair Witch scare the bejabbers out of Michael Moore. But the movie gave us literally nothing supernatural. It’s no different than a typical Hollywood slasher, albeit with a tiny body count, a supernatural force instead of a slasher, and not being made by Hollywood, but it is still stupid and vapid, and the characters are still underdeveloped and unlikable. It’s eighty minutes of watching three morons stuck in the woods, running in circles, with no idea how to compose a shot, little to no talent, and no idea what the hell they are doing.
My beef with the film also has nothing to do with the film lacking violence. I’m legitimately tired of pseudo-horror movies that rely on over-the-top violence instead of actual fear. The most effective horror movies leave much to the imagination. The VVitch did that beautifully. One of the movies I grew up with was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, which scared me without resorting to hard-R levels of violence. A movie doesn’t need violence to be scary, and too much violence and/or violence that is overly gratuitous can ruin a movie’s sense of fear. The remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did that. Rob Zombie’s Halloween and its abominable sequel did that. However, if a movie does its violence right, it can really add to the overall experience. The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did that. Goodnight Mommy did that. Last Shift did that. Hellraiser did that. The disembowelment scene in Bone Tomahawk is one of the most shocking death scenes in recent years. The scene in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes in which Lizard and Pluto attack the family is still shocking, even though I’ve seen the movie several times. But what these movies did was establish a real threat. TBWP did not do this. The Haunting may not have done that, but the story and characters were still legitimately interesting, developed, and likable, and the movie was legitimately scary. TBWP’s characters were uninteresting, underdeveloped, and unlikable, and the movie was crushingly boring.
Even the film itself just feels like a ripoff of an earlier film called The Last Broadcast, which was about four guys who go into the woods to look for the Jersey Devil (no its not u f*cing fagit). The only basic difference in the plot is that there was never actually anything supernatural at all. And it got to the party almost a year and a half before TBWP swept the nation. And hell, it was Cannibal Holocaust that was the actual pioneer of the genre. Ruggero Deodato got there first, nineteen years before TBWP came to be.
The marketers of this movie are amazingly devious. The way they organized and promoted the film is truly astounding. What made the film so successful at the box office was the massive publicity machine on the movie’s website. It was the biggest promotional idea since posting ads in a newspaper or posting flyers all over the place: marketing a movie through the Internet. Millions of Web-surfers discovered the movie with a single click of a mouse, and the rest is history. The film was marketed as “scarier than The Exorcist” and that “it will do for the woods what Jaws did for the ocean”. It was an early demonstration of the power of the Internet. An independent movie with a $20,000 budget would never have gained such popularity if not for a website that started the legend that the footage might actually be real. Further promotion of the film spread through word of mouth. And it swept audiences nationwide when it premiered at Sundance and Cannes, winning prize after prize, and becoming the darling of critics everywhere. It took in about a quarter of a billion dollars. It was the most successful independent film of its time until the release of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
But the film is and remains little more than a modest student film project that triumphed because of its publicity stunt. It should have had a hard time getting into student film and video festivals based on audiovisual quality alone. Instead, … sigh.
Rent it on DVD and listen to the commentaries of the director and writer, where they even admit that they were not present when the actual filming was happening, and that the actors improvised all of their dialogue and performances. Then why the hell was there even a writer or a director? All you needed was a couple of editors.
I know that die-hard fans of this film claim that those of us who don’t like it are just not intelligent enough to understand the movie’s genius. But if it really takes what they claim to be “intelligence” to suspend my disbelief to such a degree, then I would much rather remain stupid. Also, for those of you who think of TBWP haters as unimaginative, ignorant, insipid, closed-minded, idiotic faggots, I have this to say. You’re not going to get your point across if you spend your entire time talking about the movie being condescending towards those who didn’t like it, and adopting a sort of holier-than-thou attitude. Oh, and don’t try to compare TBWP to such horror classics as Psycho, The Haunting, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws, The Omen, Alien, or The Shining (the blar wich projet is th scarest move of all tim u f*kig fagot).
As for the inevitable comparison to Paranormal Inactivity, I’ll make it short and sweet: at least TBWP was an attempt to make a movie. It was a poor attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. I cannot say the same about Paranormal Inactivity.
You know, the next time you watch TBWP, you can just watch the interviews at the beginning of the film, leave the movie on as you go out and buy some hard drinks, and then you can get back home in time for the last eight minutes.
And then you can get really freaking drunk (et sh*t and die u f*kin fagit).
Final verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.