The Blair Witch Project (1999) Review: Creepily Real
“The scariest movie of all time is a true story.”
Synopsis: Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
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As frequent readers know, found footage isn’t really my thing. As a general rule, the subgenre doesn’t do it for me, and I often feel like it distracts or detracts from stories that could be interesting if done in another way. But that being said – The Blair Witch Project comes close to making the style work for me. Unlike a lot of other entries into this subgenre, there’s a good, solid reason for the shaky handcam visuals and “uncut footage.” And what’s more, The Blair Witch Project is able to take a lot of the inherent weaknesses of the format and turn them into strengths.
Although the story is a little shaky at times, the ambiance is generally able to carry the plot and keep the momentum of the tension going. In the end, I felt like The Blair Witch Project was very effective at what it intended to do – unfortunately, what it intended to do wasn’t something I found particularly scary.*
Where The Blair Witch Project really shines is in its actors. Though the actors were deliberately subjected to stressors while shooting the film, it’s clear that they all had strong improvisational abilities. Their interpersonal scenes (including fights, breakdowns, and even sarcastic singing) all felt very genuine, and did an excellent job of capturing the fear and desperation of the story. Such sheer, raw, emotional power is a thing rarely seen in horror movies, and definitely not from indie actors. I actually found myself wishing at times that some blockbusters I’ve seen had had the same depth!
So: I actually liked The Blair Witch Project. That being said, I will probably never feel the need to watch it again. It has low re-watch value, especially as someone not particularly interested in the art form. And though I feel the story was conveyed well and the actors did an amazing job, I also didn’t find that the movie really hit any “horror” buttons for me. It took far too long to ramp up into horror territory, meaning most of the flick ended up feeling more like a drama-filled survival movie to me. And while I’m not knocking those, they’re not my thing.
If you’re one of the few people out there who missed The Blair Witch Project when it came out, be aware of what you’re getting yourself into: a found-footage film (complete with shaky handcam movements) with a creepy atmosphere, but more focus on interpersonal squabbles than witchcraft. It’s definitely worth a watch, and I rated it highly, but it’s not going to be worth the addition to everyone’s movie cupboard.
*Note: I actually spent most of the movie being sympathetically stressed about the characters fighting – a cringey, episode-of-The-Office level sympathy. While I don’t think this was the intended goal of the filmmakers (and indeed is not something I would seek out in a movie), I have to give the actors and filmmakers credit for their raw realism.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B
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