Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
The found-footage genre has long had its ups and downs. When done brilliantly, it can be a great way for a director to get their start, and give new form to a standard story. When done poorly…well…I’ll just point to whatever comes out in January each year and assume you can see a tired horror movie that thinks acting like it’s real will make it better. And either way, we can point at Blair Witch Project as the true beginner of the trend, but is it worth seeing now?
Heather, Mike, and Josh are college students looking to make a film about the Blair Witch, a legend of a small town. After interviews with the townsfolk, they head out into the woods, where they become hopelessly lost and stalked by the Blair Witch.
Let’s start with the first question for any horror movie ever, especially older ones: is it scary? Well, in the jump scare, hide-your-face horror sense? Not really. In the creepy, not-going-to-go-into-any-woods-anytime-soon sense? Yeah. There’s never anything shown on screen, but it’s the mere fact that the atmosphere is creepy enough makes it work. Even during the daytime, as the actors find piles of rocks around their tent and a grove full of stick figures, you get that feeling that something’s not right. And then it becomes night, and you absolutely fear for anything that’s going to happen. The erratic camerawork just makes it creepier. One scene has the characters running, with Heather screaming “What is that?!” but the camera never shows what it is (apparently a crew member wearing a ski mask—yeah, less is more runs well here). Let your imagination run wild.
It’s hard to talk more about the movie without noting how it was made. The actors were given a 30 page script which just explained the Blair Witch myth, and then sent out on their own, given instructions of where to go each day, and increasingly lower amounts of food. Everything that happens from there is, by all accounts, their own decision. And it works. Their anger and frustration at each other just keeps building up until they’re practically tearing at each other’s throats, most notably with Mike and Josh screaming at Heather to put the camera down. Their fear when something unexpected happens is genuine. And when they break down, they break down hard. At one point, they find they’ve wandered in a circle instead of going anywhere, and Heather falls down crying. And of course, there’s Heather’s famous “I’m so sorry” confession to the camera. Yes, she hams it up a bit, but the snot and tears just make it so genuine.
Blair Witch Project may not be scary, but it can still creep you out and is perfect for seeing found footage’s baby steps.