Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Blair Witch Project (1999): A Review

Fig. 1 The Blair Witch Project Poster (1999)

The Blair Witch Project (1999) was written and directed by Daniel Myrick, and Eduardo Sánchez. It stars Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard, as (essentially) themselves, 3 university students who go into the Black Hills woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, to make a documentary about the local legend “The Blair Witch”.

Fig. 2 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Something that The Blair Witch Project does well is evoke a feeling of unease, not only between the people on screen, but for the people watching the films as well. By having the dialogue improvised throughout the film, it allowed for the conversations to feel more raw, and natural. This, in turn, means that as the characters' emotions shift, we feel more inclined to take on those feelings, those raw emotions, they get under our skin more because they're natural and believable. The fact that the threat is always off screen, with Heather, Mike and Joshua always teetering on the edge of seeing "The Blair Witch", adds another layer to the fear that both they feel, and we, the audience, feel.
"A villain is only an actor, but a shark is more than a shark. [...] "The Blair Witch Project" is a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can't see. The noise in the dark is almost always scarier than what makes the noise in the dark."
(Ebert 1999)
This quote perfectly illustrates the point that "The fear of the unknown" can be one of the more powerful antagonists a film can have. Combined with the handheld camera footage, something that The Blair Witch Project kickstarted in the film industry, it makes the film feel real.

Following on from that point, something that the film did differently to normal (for its time) is use the "found footage" way of filmmaking. Whilst it was not the first film to use this technique (which was Cannibal Holocaust 1980), it certainly popularised it and launched it into , with major films such as Paranormal Activity (2007), Chronicle (2012) and Cloverfield (2008) being a few good examples of this.

Fig.3 Paranormal Activity Poster (2007)
"Once word spread that “actual recorded evidence” of a ghostly urban legend had been recovered and was being played in theaters nationwide, this thing took off like dry kindling in a campfire"(Trumbore 2016)
The fact that the film was presented as real life, actual events that took place, only added to the believability factor of the film. For years, due to the word-of-mouth marketing campaign they used, and the fact that the internet was still somewhat in its infancy - people were just getting used to it as a reliable source of information - people believed that these actors really had perished in the woods of Burkittsville.

Fig. 4 Missing Persons Notice from the Blair Witch Project Marketing Team (1999)
There is not much The Blair Witch Project (1999) did similarly to other films of its time. It didn't have a massive budget (estimated $60,000), it didn't use well known actors. It stood apart from its peers, and the marketing tactics used for it were a bit different from the norm, to say the least. A year prior to the film being released, a website was set up, with detailed reports of what the trio were finding, and a copy of Heathers "Diary", which added even more backstory to the film.

Fig. 5 An Excerpt from Heather's Diary (1998)



                                                                                                                                                  
Bibliography:

  • Ebert, R. (1999). The Blair Witch Project Movie Review (1999) | Roger Ebert. [online] Rogerebert.com. Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-blair-witch-project-1999 (Accessed 14.05.2017).
  • Trumbore, D. (2016). 'The Blair Witch Project' Effect: How Found Footage Shaped a Generation of Filmmaking. [online] Collider. Available at: http://collider.com/blair-witch-found-footage-movies/#history (Accessed 14.05.2017).


Illustration List:

  • Figure 1: The Blair Witch Project (1999) [Poster]
    At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-blair-witch-project-1999 (Accessed 14.05.2017)
  • Figure 2: The Blair Witch Project (1999) [Film Still]
    At: http://www.theloop.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/1_blairwitch.jpg (Accessed 14.05.2017)
  • Figure 3: Paranormal Activity (2007) [Poster]
    At: http://www.impawards.com/2009/posters/paranormal_activity.jpg (Accessed 14.05.2017)
  • Figure 4: Missing Persons Notice from the Blair Witch Project Marketing Team. (1999). [image] Available at: http://iris.theaureview.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Blair2.jpg (Accessed 14.05.2017).
  • Figure 5: An Excerpt from Heather's Journal. (1998). [image] Available at: http://www.blairwitch.com/project/journal4.html (Accessed 14.05.2017).

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