The Blair Witch Project was the first of it’s kind. It birthed the found footage genre and also made everybody question if what they had just seen was actually real which not a lot of horror movies has accomplished in the past. It must have made the experience that much more frightening for people to watch this film in the theater.
And while it gets a bad rap for some reason nowadays, however, for my money, now, sixteen years later, it’s still terrifying.
The story revolves around 3 teenagers, Heather, Josh and Mike, whom decide to film a documentary about The Blair Witch. They travel to Burkittsville, Maryland (formerly known as Blair) and interview the townsfolk about the legend of the Blair Witch. Heather and her companions continue to interview the townspeople, until they then head into the woods. This is where the real horror begins.
The film expertly builds its first act by telling the audience why they should fear this evil Witch by describing her to us. We learn that her feet never touched the ground. And that she is covered in hair. The film smartly lets us imagine what it’s villain might be without ever giving us a definitive answer which is the scariest kind of horror there is—not knowing what’s out there to get you.
The film was expertly shot on only two cameras; one in color and one in black in white and it feels like you are watching real events unfold on recovered footage. Two people—Daniel Maryck and Eduardo Sanchez, directed the film with only a Hi-8 camcorder and a 16 mm, which is impressive. Both do a great job at building tension and making creative scares.
The acting is convincing enough and all the performances are solid and well above average for a horror flick. Heather (playing herself) is a strong female character and doesn’t need anyone to take care of her. While the actress quit film after Blair Witch and went on to do something else with her life, she was a real find.
Mike and Josh are great as well in their roles, but they sometime can come as a bit annoying and stupid (one of them makes a dumb, irrational decision, that I will go in deeper in my spoiler section) but it’s understandable if you we’re in a situation like this. If you we’re lost in the woods, with few supplies, cold, hungry and hunted by a witch, you’d probably feel the same way and complain and argue most of the time. The script feels very real and authentic and it feels as these characters are having real conversations. The script feels improvised most of the time and never comes across as “movie dialogue,” which a lot of horror movies feel like nowadays. Most of the dialogue was actually improvised since the actors we’re given the important plot points with a script that was a 35 page outline.
And the biggest praise that I can give Blair Witch is that it has no jump scares. How rare is that in a horror movie? There is usually dozens of jump scares and that is the cheapest form of horror there is. It’s usually a loud noise that happens when a character pops into frame at a moment you’re not expecting (but let’s face it, the jump scares are all predictable at this point). And there’s also no music unless the characters are playing music in the film.
Overall, Blair Witch is still an effective and intelligent horror film that keeps you in the dark about its villain proving that imagination is scarier than blood and gore.
During the first day, the students learn of Rustin Parr, a hermit whom kidnapped children and brought them to his house in the woods and afterwards murdered them in the 1940’s. The information we get is passed on as nothing than more than legend and lore, and the main characters don’t take it seriously. Parr would bring the child in pairs, and forced the first children to stand in the corner while listening to his companion’s screams as he murdered them. Parr eventually surrendered to the police and told them that the spirit of Elly Kedward possessed him, a witch hanged in the 18th century. They also visit the cemetery, where a large number of children have died in the nineteen hundreds.
The second day, the three friends embark on their dark journey through the woods, where something ultimately feels off. They had planned food for 3 days. It doesn’t work out that way.
The forest seems cold and uninviting. There aren’t any birds or barely any animals except a dead one they meet early on. The students hike to Coffin Rock, where five people were found murdered in the 19th century.
The forest is a desolate and lonely place, and they soon discover that they are lost and walking in circles.
The third day, they find seven piles of rocks that are carefully placed and organized as if someone had put them there. Heather discovers then that their map is gone and the three start to panic and argue. Mike confesses that he through the map in a creek because he believed that it was pointless, which is probably the dumbest part of this film, since you as the audience believe that the witch has taken it.
Fear slowly starts to take them.
They wake up the next morning and find that there are piles of rock just outside their tent. This is probably the most suspenseful part of the film, since we are now positive that this witch is real and are after them and that our heroes are basically fucked.
The fourth day. They continue to wander through the woods, and encounter voodoo motifs attached to the trees and the tension mounts. The nights become more violent and intense as their tent inexplicably shakes endlessly by an unknown force. They rapidly leave the tent and remain in the woods until dawn.
The fifth day. They come back to their campsite to find that Josh’s bag is covered in slime and that their bags are torn inside out.
The students continue to head south but continue to walk in circles as they encounter the same streams that they passed the day before.
During the sixth night, the two hear Josh yell in pain as if he is tortured. They yell to him back, but never get an answer.
The next morning, Heather and Mike find that Josh has disappeared and Heather finds Josh’s teeth in a bundle of sticks and fabrics left by the witch.
As night falls, upon realizing that they might not make it out alive, Heather apologizes to her family in one of the film’s best scene in which she breaks down and sobs knowing that they’re both fucked.
“I just wanted to apologize to Mike’s mom and Josh’s mom and my mom and I’m sorry to everyone. I was very naïve. I was very naïve and very stupid and I shouldn’t have put other people in danger for something that was all about me and my selfish motives. I’m so sorry for everything that has happened because in spite of what Mike says it is my fault. Because it was my project and I insisted on everything.”
Later that night they hear Josh scream again, and the two decide to search for him and find an old cabin, which contains children’s handprints on the walls. Mike heads upstairs, claiming that he hears Mike’s screams while Heather tries to follow.
He then goes to the basement, declaring that he this is where Josh actually is, and after what seems a quick struggle, goes silent and the camera falls on the floor. Heather arrives and screams as her camera catches a glimpse of Mike who is standing in a corner. Something strucks Heather in the head and the camera falls on the floor and the footage ends.
Blair Witch still holds up as a terrifying experience and the ending stays true to the rest of the film by never showing us what the witch looks like and what her intentions really are. And while the sequel, Blair Witch: Book of Shadows is probably one of the worst sequels ever made and it doesn’t exist, The Blair Witch Project still holds up to this day as an effective and smart horror film.