Some might see the fact that a book relies somewhat on the readers ability to imagine the scenarios that are being written about as a flaw. Film is often seen as having an advantage in that it is able to portray visually what is happening without the limitations of certain peoples imagination. “The Blair Witch Project” relies on the human imagination much as a book does, and the fact that a lot of the movie involves what you can’t actually see — and often can’t hear — makes it an unbelievably effective horror film. It preys on our fear of the unknown, and does so throughout until the final gut wrenching moments of the film. The found footage horror genre truly began here, where the method was used to the greatest effect.
Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez do a spectacular job of making the film seem completely natural. We are told at the beginning that three students went out to the woods in 1994 to shoot a documentary about the the “Blair Witch” but that they never returned. Their footage was found however, and it is now available for us. The portrayal of the film as a documentary is a stroke of genius. At the beginning we are fed information from the locals of Burkitsville — formerly known as “Blair” — about the Blair Witch. The information is presented in the form of legends and folktales, in one scene a man fishing is adamant that he saw the Witch himself, while the man alongside him claims the other is nuts. It puts incomplete and unreliable information into our minds, and it is this that truly creates the dire terror — and it is terror — when things go horribly wrong deep in the Burkitsville woods.
On one of the initial nights Josh Leonard (each of the characters share the same name as the actor that portrays them) claims to have heard a cackling during the night. Of course no one takes much notice of this really and they move on with their day. They reach “Coffin Rock” and Heather Donahue, who is the leader of the expedition, is reading a story about how men were violently slain at the rock. Black and White images of the rock with the dialogue overlayed lets us examine the horrific setting of the rock whilst we are told events that aren’t quite tangible but as a result all the more unsettling. We are being told that the Blair Witch isn’t something to be messed with and it isn’t just going to take you back and boil you in a stew, though I dispute how pleasant that would be either.
It is all about what is placed in our heads against what we decide to perceive as a result of that. One of the nights the crew can hear cracking sounds surrounding their tent in the distance. The cameras come out as well as they hope to record the action but the darkness envelopes it.We conjure in our own heads what is creating that noise and it is disturbing. The information we have been fed earlier goes into our mental incantations and what we each see or don’t see is unique and uniquely terrifying.
Each of the main actors are also absolutely stellar in their roles. Heather runs the group and is responsible for navigation with the map, Josh carries equipment and Mike Williams is responsible for the sound. Each character copes with the situation at hand in different ways and none of them really feel like actors. The effort on the directors part to make “The Blair Witch Project” feel real, which involved a website released with fake police documents, absolutely succeeded. Each of the characters are well written, and I believe they wrote themselves to an extent, and you end up feeling as if you know each of them. This helps with immersing you into the film which is one of the most important factors of what makes the film a success.
The woods themselves appear almost dead as the film goes on. The trees become things that don’t contribute to life but only serve to obscure our vision. Nature works against the crew and in doing so us as well, it is ferociously effective. “The Blair Witch Project” terrified me when I first saw it and I still feel the tension just from knowing what is about to come next. The film is an example of horror that succeeds on a low budget by scaring us with our own heads. The film is open to interpretation throughout, which is what it is all about.
If you wish to watch the film, don’t do it at a Halloween movie night with others. Watch it alone; on as big a screen as you can find; in the dark; at night. The formula isn’t going to be for everyone (something I know only too well) but at least if you do watch it in the manner I suggest, you will have gotten out everything you could have from “The Blair Witch Project”.
It pays to truly immerse yourself as thouroughly as possible, detach yourself from your phone. Cut yourself off from the world, just like the doomed film crew in the Burkitsville woods.