The Blair Witch Project
the blair witch project | daniel myrick | Eduardo Sanchez | heather donahue | michael c. williams | joshua leonard | united states | found footage | found-footage | mystery | bob griffin | jim king | sandra sanchez | ed swanson | ed sanson | patricia decou | mark mason
Film: The Blair Witch Project
Director: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Writer: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard
This film I remember the first time that I saw it. My parents rented it I believe or my dad might have picked up the VHS. Regardless, we watched it together as a family. My sister and I didn’t have internet at the time as this would have been around 2000. We were terrified and thought it was real. It wasn’t until years later we learned that wasn’t the case and it was me seeing Heather Donahue, who is a person supposedly missing from what happened here. The synopsis though is three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend.
As the synopsis states, we’re following a woman who wants to film a documentary about the Blair Witch and the lore that surrounds her. She’s the director of this documentary, Heather Donahue. She is joined by a camera man that she knows, Joshua Leonard. They are going to be working with Michael Williams. He goes by Mike and is their sound guy. Neither of them knows him that well though.
They go to Burkittsville, Maryland where they interview some of the townspeople. We get some background information that this legend has been used as a way to keep children in line. They even interview someone who claims to have had an encounter with the Blair Witch, Mary Brown (Patricia DeCou). There’s also the story of a local legend surrounding a child murderer named Rustin Parr.
The crew then goes to the woods. The first place they go to is known as Coffin Rock. There is a story that there were a group of hunters who were killed and disemboweled on the site. They were tied together in a formation. The person who found them went to find help. Upon his return, the bodies were gone, with the stench of death still in the air. This is all told to us by Heather.
They then go deeper into the woods looking for a cemetery. Their journey back becomes problematic. They for some reason do not take the same route back, but they are putting their faith in Heather and that she knows where they’re going. They find some weird things. There are a bunch of rocks that are stacked up. Also odd tiki men made of tree branches and other things from the woods. Heather wants to get this all on film, while the two men just want to get out of the woods.
Things get even worse as they start to hear things at night. At first it sounds like branches breaking or hitting rocks together. Things get progressively worse and they find odd things periodically the mornings after as well. This causes them to descend into frustration and terror of the unknown.
As I said earlier, I did think this really happened for some time. Now that I know the truth behind the film, I have to say that the filmmakers did a great job at their campaign. They decided that they wanted everyone to believe that this film was real. This is genius to me, especially since they had such a low budget. If not for that, I don’t believe this film would do as well as it did.
It is a premise though that we can connect with. The scary thing is that even today, with all of the technology we have, something like this could happen. We definitely could get lost in some of the woods in the country and never be found again. This film really is light on the supernatural, which makes those moments even scarier. I have to say, the scenes at night in the pitch black really get the tension going. The real life horror of exhaustion, lack of food and maybe never getting out is there as well.
The pacing and editing of this film is interesting. The realism is there and it does just feel like three college students trying to themselves out of the mess they are in. None of them are that experienced in going into the woods like they are, so the bad choices make things even worse. The basic story is simple and the footage is edited in a way where it feels like they would record for stretches and that is what we get. The longer they are lost, the more the tension builds. It can come from the interactions between characters as tempers flare and also from what happens at night. The film is actually written well as there are callbacks to things from earlier in the film, which I’m a sucker for. The ending is bleak and simple, but very effect.
I’m not sure this film would be as strong if not for the acting of the trio. Donahue, Leonard and Williams are really just playing themselves, but from what I’ve read, some of what they were doing wasn’t really acting. They did stay out in the woods and writers/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez really messed with them to get the most visceral reactions they could. It is kind of messed up to hear, but it did make for a much better product. The interviewees were all great as well. There is such an amateur feel which helps with the realism.
There weren’t really any effects in the film, but it didn’t need them. I have read they wanted to actually have a witch be seen. I’m glad this is something that didn’t happen, especially with the budget they had. The little Tiki-men like figures were creepy. The setting is what really makes it and the old house that is discovered as well.
Last thing to really cover would be the soundtrack. The film doesn’t have anything that is not ambient. I’m glad they didn’t use music, as that really would have broken the realism. The use of sounds while being in the woods was great. That is what drives quite a bit of the fear, especially at night. Something I noticed this time is that at the end, all of the sound is coming from the non-film camera. I bring this up because it is unnerving watching Heather’s footage while she is upstairs. This was definitely used strategically.
Now with that said, this film is interesting. In the grand scheme of things, not a lot happens. I can see that being an issue for some people. I think what makes it great is that they stick to the realism and it truly feels like a documentary. The true horror comes from being lost, exhaustion and being hungry. What happens to them at night really makes it even worse and builds the tension. The acting seems real and even though there aren’t a lot of effects, what we get is solid. The soundtrack of the film was used strategically as well. If you’ve never seen it, give it a viewing. I think this is a really good film and definitely helped spark the found-footage boom that happened again after its release.
My Rating: 9 out of 10