"The Blair Witch Project" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
"The Blair Witch Project" is what practically made found footage horror so famous. Inspiring films like "VHS" and "Paranormal Activity", this 1999 film from Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez practically made this horror story a reality, bringing the viewers into this real-world horror story that could easily be plausible in today's world. While there is no footage of the titular antagonist of this movie, or really any jump scares or startling imagery, this picture is able to terrify the audiences with the sense of unknown, making them feel as lost and claustrophobic as the three characters in this film.
The lost found footage depicts three film students, Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard, as they are attempting to make a documentary film in Maine about the legend of the Blair Witch. Infamous for capturing kids and brutally murdering them, the three students investigate the town and its citizens before trekking through the forest, on a hunt to find this infamously terrifying child murderer who has been haunting the town for centuries.
When they start their voyage in the woods, they soon realize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. From losing the map they are following to hearing cackling and screaming sounds throughout the night, they start to feel the effects that this documentary are having upon them, both as friends and filmmakers. They soon start to realize that while they are attempting to stay alive from this un-seen witch, they are also trying to not kill each other as tensions run high.
When the film opens, it wants the audience to believe that these are actual film students who were murdered and had their found footage aired to audiences. The filmmakers even had the actors, who have the same names in real life as in the film, pretend they were dead and hid from the public for over a year. By doing this, the filmmakers are trying to really immerse the audience into the film, making them feel like they are truly witnessing murders and paranormal activity in the forest of a small town in Maine. Even if they didn't do that, the film would still terrify viewers on their first watch, as the events in this film could have actually taken place in the real world.
The actors, who were all practically unknown and didn't have much of a resume at the time of this film being released, gave terrific performances for this type of film. The movie moves at a pace to make the viewers feel as claustrophobic and terrified as the characters, and the actors do a fantastic job at showing that mental decay of their characters and how they are becoming more hostile over time. They have a sort of cabin fever in a way, where they are getting more and more mad and upset at being lost in the woods.
This can not be credited to only the filmmakers, but as well as the great screenplay and directing by Myrick and Sánchez. They really drag the film along, but not in a way where it feels boring or slow after a while. It's more of the fact that the viewers are starting to get fed up with the characters' circumstances, which is what the filmmakers were going for. At the same time, the movie is able to terrify viewers with minimalistic material, not fully showing the devilish acts going on in the woods.
This leads us to the finale of the film, where the characters explore the terrifying house that the witch brutally murdered the children in. From the found footage style of filmmaking to the disgusting and terrifying set design, the filmmakers perfectly capture the tone of the film and the dark atmosphere the characters find themselves in. It's perhaps the most terrifying ten minutes of found footage filmmaking in the history of film.
However, like many people who have seen this film, I'm very disappointed by the exclusion of the actual Blair witch. While watching, I was waiting for the terrifying antagonist to pop up or make a jump scare appearance, which they set up the perfect opportunity for at the end of the film. While the first "Paranormal Activity" capitalized on that final jump scare with the demonic being lunging at the camera, which then fades to black, this movie unfortunately doesn't have the same smarts and ideas as the movie it inspired years later. They could have easily added in an effective and great jump scare, but spoil their chances at this.
I would say this movie has held up throughout the years, and still does terrify audiences as being a cult classic nowadays. It is perhaps the most famous and one of the most highly regarded found footage horror films, and I would say it earns that title due to the effectiveness of the creepy factor and compelling characters. I appreciate what the filmmakers tried to do here, and I applaud them for kickstarting this sub-genre of horror.