Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Blair Witch Project movie review

The Blair Witch Project - 1999
Directors - Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

1) The Blair Witch Project poster

Plot summary / review:

The Blair Witch Project is a unique, hyper real, warts 'n' all horror film. There's no traditional opening title sequence. Instead it opens with a chilling message explaining that three student filmmakers disappeared in October 1994 whilst making a documentary about the witch of the title. A year later their footage was found.....

Heather (Heather Donahue) is the enthusiastic Director of the film. We see her excitedly getting ready in her apartment as her cameraman Josh (Joshua Leonard) arrives. They gather their equipment, a handheld video camcorder and a 16mm film camera and set off to collect Mike (Michael Williams) their sound recorder.

2) Gathering Crew

They arrive at Burkittsville, Maryland formerly Blair. Heather narrates as they film in the towns graveyard, which has an unusually high amount of infant graves. With their first scenes in the can, they proceed into town and interview the locals about the legend of the witch. Co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez intelligently use this an opportunity to provide the audience with the background story. The interviews and interviewee's seem genuine, but told in a tongue in cheek way, like a real myth or legend adding to the realism. Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun times explains 'The buried structure of the film, which was written and directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, is insidious in the way it introduces information without seeming to.' He goes on to explain ,'We hear that children have been killed in the woods, that bodies have disappeared, that strange things happened at Coffin Rock. But the movie wisely doesn't present this information as if it can be trusted; it's gossip, legend and lore, passed along half-jokingly by local people, and Heather, Josh and Mike view it as good footage, not a warning.' (Ebert, 1999).

They hear stories and myths dating back as far as the 1700's, about a woman banished from the town of Blair for luring children and drawing blood. The legend spans to as recent as 1941 when an old hermit confessed to killing children in the basement of his home in the woods. He was hung after telling the authorities he did it for an 'old woman ghost' who occupied the woods. He would make the children face the wall as he sacrifices the others. Amongst the interviewer's is Mary Brown seen as the local town nut. She is adamant she saw the witch as child and describes her as half woman, half animal.

3) Mary Brown

Not disconcerted by the locals stories, the three park their car on the outskirts of the woods and head off on a two day hike to film more footage. They come across locations linked to the myths, finding strange piles of rocks and sticks tied together in trees. Their first night passes without much incident. Joshua tells the group the next day he heard strange noises in the night which sounded like cackling.

4) Strange sticks

The pace of the film is expertly realized, raising the tension gradually. The second night, all three are awoken by the same cackling noises which seems to be coming from all directions. Clearly disturbed, they decide to head back to the car the next day, their trust solely in Heather and her map. Panic begins to slowly seep into the camp as they begin to fear they are lost. They reluctantly have to camp another night. The cackling returns along with sounds of babies screaming. Their tent is violently rustled by something outside and they run off into the darkness of the woods, where they hide till morning breaks. With each passing night, the events become more extreme. Tired, hungry and out of 'smokes', the relationship between the group begins to fray. The directors using method acting to great affect. Their fear and growing impatience feels completely believable. 'The dynamics between the three main characters, veering from intense dislike to petrified reliance on each other, makes compelling if uncomfortable viewing.' (Barclay, 2000).

5) Mad Mike

Their situation descends further as Joshua seems to have disappeared in the night. Heather and Mike decide to carry on, not sure if he has run away or if he has been kidnapped. They setup camp for another intense night. Heather completely breaks down and uncharacteristically apologizes on camera, blaming herself for everything. A scene which would become a signature part of the film, endlessly parodied and riffed. 

6) Heather breaks down

Heather and Mike are haunted by more noises in the night. Only this time it sounds like Josh screaming in pain. They both grab the cameras and follow his voice through the woods. They come across a derelict house. Mike frantically shouts for Josh to tell them his location and Heather quivers and cries in utter fear. Mike thinks he hears Josh in the basement and runs down after him. When he arrives his camera is inexplicably is smashed to the ground. Back in Heathers point of view, she shrieks for Mike. Nervously she follows him to the basement. She discovers him facing the wall and again the camera is knocked to the floor and then silence...  

7) Heather's last moments

The Blair Witch Project is a remarkably affective film, famously filmed on a shoe string budget. In a time when video cameras became a standard house hold item, the audience can relate to the actors like never before and are completely submerged in their situation. They may as well be filming it themselves. The uncut editing and documentary style sell it's realism to truly frightening affect. '...the handheld camerawork - on both videotape and film - creates a real in-your-face feel that extends the mounting anxieties experienced by the characters to the audience.' (Barclay, 2000).

The Directors used their limited finance to fuel their creativity, proving that a good horror need not rely on special effects. The actors adequately descend into fear and anxiety, frustrated but utterly reliant on each other. The infamous witch is never directly seen, however, her presence is certainly felt. The strange rock formations and binded sticks absolutely feel like they were made by 'something' in the woods. The extremely effective noises in the dark are scarier than the 'thing' making the noises. The Directors manage to tap into the fear of the dark / woods which is embedded in all of us, realising the imagination is far more affective than any special affect or costumed actor. '''The Blair Witch Project,'' a most inventive departure from standard horror fare, is frightening only insofar as its characters' panic seems real. Everything else is left to the imagination. And the imagination works overtime watching the acuity of these talented filmmakers, and wondering what bright idea they'll have next.' (Maslin, 1999).

Bibliography

Barclay, Ali. BBC review 1st January 2000
http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2000/10/23/blair_witch_project_1999_review.shtml Accessed 22/02/11

Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun Times review. 16th July 1999
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19990716/REVIEWS/907160301

Maslin, Janet. New York Times review  14th July 1999
http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review Accessed 22/02/11

Illustrations

1) The Blair Witch Project Poster http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/blair_witch_project_ver3.jpg Accessed 22/02/11

2) Gathering Crew http://bluraymedia.ign.com/bluray/image/article/113/1130340/the-blair-witch-project-20101026031303844_640w.jpg Accessed 22/02/11

3) Mary Brown http://www.blairwitch.com/mb1.gif Accessed 22/02/11

4) Strange sticks http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_YdLOnuAEN1A/SqPlf2ZsBdI/AAAAAAAAAe8/1scmH_Cz2q4/s400/Blair+Witch+sticks.jpg Accessed 22/02/11

5) Mad Mike http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2008/05/01/blair_witch_wideweb__470x327,0.jpg Accessed 22/02/11

6) Heather breaks down http://img185.imageshack.us/i/271795674.jpg/ Accessed 22/02/11

7) Heathers last moments http://images.wikia.com/blairwitch/images/a/a7/The_blair_witch_project_05-19.jpg Accessed 22/02/11

1 comment: