The Blair Witch Project
directed by Daniel Myrick
& Eduardo Sanchez
(Haxan Films, 1999)

The website for The Blair Witch Project is so realistic and in-depth that some people believe the Blair Witch to be a real legend and that the students of this film really disappeared. And the Blair Witch (also known as Elly Kedward) appeared on urban legend Web sites before the movie even opened. That's good marketing.

But it's the movie, not the marketing, which matter. And in that arena, I have to hand it to these guys -- they created a hell of a story for their movie.

The basic premise is that three film students are shooting a documentary on the Blair Witch in the town of Burkittsville, Md., formerly known as Blair. The students mysteriously disappear without a trace. A year later, the footage they shot is found, along with some audiotapes and the journal of Heather, whose senior thesis the project was. The movie consists entirely of this footage and records what happened in the woods on that fateful weekend.

The directors claim to have employed what they call "method filmmaking" -- they showed the actors (by the way, the names of the actors and the characters are the same, lending to the realism) how to use the camera, then sent them off into the woods. There was a script of events, but not of dialogue; all of that was improvised as they went. The directors hired "plants" that they set in the town of Burkittsville, so the actors never knew who they were supposed to be talking to. When they got to the woods, the directors and other people would make noises, throw things, generally freak out the actors. The sleep-deprivation and lack of food, according to the directors, were real -- they didn't have enough for the six days of shooting. The movie is shown in real time -- the 90 minutes of movie is 90 minutes of film they shot.

One of the directors has been quoted as saying he was afraid of having to institutionalize his lead actress by the end of the movie. The fear certainly seemed real.

It's not a fear that makes you jump out of your seat, but rather one that insinuates itself into your mind and makes itself known at the oddest (and usually darkest) times. The movie actually begins rather humorously, giving it an authentic touch; the interviews with the townspeople, especially Mary Brown, the town eccentric to claims to have had a run-in with the witch, are fun to watch. When they finally get to the woods and begin hearing things at night, the tension creeps in. I sat in the theater thinking "creepy, creepy, creepy" each time they had to set up camp again. By the end of the movie, I was actually scared.

I'm not sure what ending I expected, but it wasn't what happened. (And for some added creepiness, check out the book The Blair Witch Project by D.A. Stern, due out in August. There's a lot of background information as well as the text of Heather's journal. I'm planning on seeing the movie again after reading the book.)

There's not a lot more I can say without giving things away. Suffice it to say the theater was silent at the end of the movie (in New York City, no less!), then the nervous laughter started. None of my friends (or I) slept very well that night. If horror movies really bother you and you want to see this movie, I suggest a matinee, so you can walk out into the sunshine. If you are bothered by horror movies and live in a rural area, I suggest not seeing the movie at all.

And if I ever go camping again, it'll be at peak season in a well-used campground!

[ by Jenny Tait ]



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