johnlink ranks THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

I was looking for a nice short feature and found that an HD BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was on demand. I realized it was nearly fifteen years since its initial release (to see how far movie planning has come in the past decade and a half: this small indie film was a July release). I’ve watched plenty of found footage since, both good and bad. But how does the original hold up?


I watched THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) on 4.12.14. It was my third viewing of the film and first in over ten years.

Three budding filmmakers go into the woods to make a documentary about the Blair Witch. They use their own cameras to film it. Everything unfolding on the cinema screen was shot with their hands. The ending is ominous. In 1999 this was revolutionary. People argued that it was real (despite the end credits) and were scared out of their minds. Personally, I once remember an adamant, albeit less than intelligent, young girl at a high school party telling me that she was entitled to her opinion about whether or not THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was real. To forget the impact it had on people, to forget that it was one of the original and first ingenious uses of viral marketing is to forget its importance in film history. What follows will consider its impact on a viewer in the second decade of the 21st century. But to ignore the impact it had on filmmaking at the close of the 20th century would be to forget its place in film history.

Thinking of this as ‘real’ is laughable now. The people in the first ten minutes of the film, those providing the Blair Witch exposition, are all obvious actors. The film improves the further it goes, as does the acting. Heather (Heather Donahue), the team leader, begins the ‘documentary’ overacting in front of the camera. She improves as the camera becomes a crutch as she and her two male companions (Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard) become more and more lost.

The film is refreshingly unfiltered despite it being pared down from many, many hours of film. The three actors were also the filmmakers, being let out into the woods by a carefully monitoring filmmaking team. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made the less than egoic choice to remove themselves from the set. They had a plan for the actors, gave them a map and some cameras, and they instigated a performance. The filmmaking style is unique and powerful, even as their voice is ultimately able to come out in the editing room.

The editing is specific, cutting us down to an 80 minute run time. When the problem of being lost is introduced it comes suddenly. Even as nothing happens, the characters are built and the tension comes from their frustration turning to horror as the nights become increasingly creepy. This, in 2014, is not a scary film. It is a creepy film which doesn’t have a moment of terror until its final 6 minutes. But, oh, how grand those last six minutes are.

In getting there we see how obtuse Heather can be. We see how blindly angry the men can get. We are privy to some early meta-filmmaking as the actors/characters expound on how what we see in the camera viewfinder is not reality and in the quote “I want to make movies. Isn’t that what we’re here to do?” The movie references its own desire.

The movie sometimes confuses what is scary for the actors filming it with what is scary for an audience. Running through the woods with voices filling black screen doesn’t always land. Perhaps the effect in theaters is lost in the home entertainment system, but the couch potato can’t help but wait for the camera’s light to illuminate something. 

The final scene, as alluded to above, still holds power. The previous 70 plus minutes build to the climax in an isolated house. The final moments don’t fail to deliver, even if the evil goes unseen. A drifting attention gets sucked into that house. Even if the prior scenes of the movie meander, the last moments resonate.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is an important film in horror history. It’s power still lingers, though the terror has faded from this fifteen year old relic. Those who haven’t seen it may be disappointment. Those who remember its original impact will probably still be moved.




FINAL SCORE: 6.5 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on April 12, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)”

  1. Classic. Regardless of all the copy-cats we live with now. Good review John.

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