The Blair Witch Project (1999)
“The Blair Witch Project” is one of the most controversial horror films of recent memory, and this is not due to explicit content; the movie was never banned or placed on a parents’ watch list. It is controversial due to its lack of explicit content; there are no CGI monsters or buckets of gore, bucking the trend of most contemporary horror. It derives its scares from its setting, atmosphere, and great performances from the three leads.
“Blair Witch” tells the story of Heather (Heather Donahue), Mike (Michael Williams), and Josh (Joshua Leonard); three student filmmakers who are producing a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who is said to reside in the woods outside Burkittsville, Maryland. They disappear during their venture, however, and the footage of what they experienced in those woods is found a year later. The film consists entirely of that footage as if it were spliced together chronologically.
The movie was preceded by an unprecedented advertising campaign, the first in history to truly utilize the internet; a website was established claiming the footage shown during the film is true and that the leads were missing and presumed dead. Posters advertising “The Blair Witch Project” were modeled to look like missing persons posters and featured images of the three protagonists. These tactics were highly effective, with many believing the advertising’s claims.
The movie was a huge box office smash, and received mostly positive assessments from the critical community. While the advertising for “Blair Witch” was successful in drumming up interest, it also proved to be the film’s undoing in some ways. There was such a buzz surrounding the movie, and many viewers were disappointed in the film’s sparseness. At its centre, the movie is about three people yelling at each other in a forest. I see this as a positive though; “The Blair Witch Project” eschewed most of the excesses and tropes, which defined the genre over the years. The film focused on our core fears of isolation and the unknown, making it one of the most frightening entries in modern horror cinema.
©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.