The Blair Witch Project (1999)
By: Julian on November 19, 2009  | 
DVD
Icon (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 78 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo SÓnchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
Screenplay: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo SÓnchez
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
It took me a long time to watch The Blair Witch Project, a film that was lauded as one of the most groundbreaking and intelligent horror films of the nineties (admittedly, a pretty moribund decade for horror). After an unfocussed viewing a few months ago, I gave it a revisit and The Blair Witch, I am sorry to say, is utter tripe. Disjointed and peopled by performers unable to command attention on a very basic level, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sànchez's debut picture, which won numerous accolades on the independent circuit and recouped its budget about four hundred-fold, is a puzzlingly overrated failure that solely relies on its gimmicky mockumentary feel.

Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard (played by actors of the same name) are a trio of documentarians who head to a backwoods Maryland town to uncover the secret of the Blair Witch, a fabled antagonist who has been hanging about in the nearby woods since the 1700s. The film begins with the trio interviewing a number of townspeople who provide all sorts of stories, most of them verifying the existence of (or at least expressing their fear of) the Blair Witch.

Heather, Michael and Joshua then head to the hills to the site of a ritual murder that the Blair Witch purportedly had a hand in. They head to a cemetery where they discover a series of cairns, before setting up camp. The next day they find more cairns (at this stage, we're about half way into the film and the creepiest thing we're up against are strategically piled rocks), and shoddy map reading and Heather's blind drive to advance deeper into the forest gets the hapless trio lost. Confused and disoriented, more cairns scare the crew into hysteria before some more weird stuff happens.

Take it from me: this is a waste of time. A certain vibe stumbles into the movie at about the 50-minute mark (it's thankfully short at just under an hour and twenty) but it's little more than just a weird feel of exigency: there's nothing terrifying about it and at best, you can view The Blair Witch Project as a horror film that (in lacklustre fashion) tackles desperation in much the same way the first act of The Descent did. Without anything to complement that theme, though, (I'm being intentionally vague so as to not introduce spoilers for either film), the picture just comes off as hollow and misconceived.

No doubt what drove the film and made it so wildly successful (it made over $250 million worldwide, eclipsing its budget of half to three-quarters of a million) was its marketing as a genuine doco and, as far as marketing goes, Myrick and Sànchez did an exceptionally good job – a broad Internet marketing campaign, which included changing Donahue, Williams and Leonard's IMDb profile to read "missing, presumed dead" during Blair Witch's initial marketing campaigns, lured the punters in. At this stage, I think it's appropriate to direct a nod at Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, an easy comparison but a relevant one: that film, released twenty years earlier, used a similar technique of killing off the lead players to far greater effect. Even the whole premise of the film riffs heavily on Deodato's 1980 film and, to a lesser extent, the Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog.

It'd be ignorant of me, though, not to acknowledge the work that went into Blair Witch, and what would have been a phenomenally taxing effort for Myrick and Sànchez: before they went to Artisan, who pumped cash into reshoots and new sound mixes, the original budget was around $25,000. It's not just filmmakers who can appreciate how amazing a budget that low is – it's a record-holding feat. After an eight-month post-production period, Blair Witch played Sundance to Myrick and Sànchez's delight – they had expected, at best, a cable TV debut. Artisan's more optimistic projections provided a box-office taking of about $10 million. In later interviews, Sànchez bemoaned the fact that Blair Witch was viewed based on hype not merit, something that certainly diminished the experience for me.

But paying the film the respect it deserves and looking at these merits doesn't yield a better result. The acting is poor and the psychological terror element of the film falls flat. It looks authentic, but that's just a by-product of rock-bottom production quality, an inevitability. It's a curiosity, sure, and proof that a popular movie can be made on virtually nothing with the right concept, but it was a concept that didn't gel with me. I haven't seen any of Myrick and Sànchez's subsequent features but they haven't been anywhere near as commercially or critically successful as what Blair Witch predicted. A 2000 sequel to this film also looks like one to avoid.
Video
Presented in 1.33:1, it's grainy, shaky, and occasionally unbearable, but it's meant to be.
Audio
English Dolby Digital 2.0. It'd be lazy reviewing to pick apart the soundtrack of a ten year old film with the budget and style of Blair Witch, so I won't: adjust your expectations accordingly.
Extra Features
As comprehensive a set of features as you could hope for. There's a feature commentary by Myrick and Sànchez, as well as producers Robbie Cowie, Gregg Hale and Michael Monello; a 44-minute mockumentary Curse of the Blair Witch, a featurette originally produced for the Sci Fi channel which chronicles the myth of the film; a 5-minute deleted scene; notes about the myth; production notes and bios. There's no making-of, so a point is docked there, but Curse of the Blair Witch was a nice touch.
The Verdict
As well lauded as it is, I got nothing out of The Blair Witch Project – I can see why people like it but it was too reliant on a failed attempt at conjuring psychological terror and intrigue. I just didn't find The Blair Witch Project scary – vacuous and ineffectual is all, and if you've seen Cannibal Holocaust, you've seen this sort of thing done far better.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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