In a year that saw Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, and The Matrix, an unexpected horror movie made a huge impact on the culture in 1999: The Blair Witch Project. This independent picture saw three film students (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michel C. Williams) travel around town for a documentary about a local murderer called the Blair Witch. But, as the three filmmakers lose their way in the woods, the real horror begins. The Blair Witch Project went on to garner critical praise and the movie went on to make nearly $250 million worldwide.
The Blair Witch Project was more than just a film, it was a cultural phenomenon that sent shockwaves through the industry. The clever marketing had most of the audiences believing that the movie was actually real. Heather Donahue’s mother actually got sympathy cards from fans. The indie horror film also inspired a new genre, found footage, which has spawned dozens of films such as Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, and Unfriended. While the movie boasts a good rotten tomatoes score of 86%, not everyone agrees that The Blair Witch Project is a good film, with the horror movie actually receiving Two Golden Rasberry nominations for worst picture and worst actress for Heather Donahue. Is The Blair Witch Project a good movie that holds in 2021? Let’s examine one of the most iconic films of the 1990s.
The core cast of The Blair Witch Project is Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard. The most interesting thing about the script was that Daniel Myrick and Eduard Sanchez actually wrote a 35-page outline of the entire feature. The dialogue was entirely improvised. The good news is that the entire story is cleverly mapped out. The bad? The characters weren’t given much to do. It’s a horror film, so character development isn’t too much of a requirement when it comes to this genre; however, there’s never that one moment where we’re given much of a chance to really get to know them.
We do understand the personalities of these three but that washes away once they’re lost in the woods. Donahue, Williams, and Leonard do a great job of displaying fear, frustration, and anguish throughout their time in the woods. The reason audiences are able to relate to them is due to the realist approach of being lost in the woods. It feels real because the actors bring their A-game. These three will never be put on the list for best characters in a horror film; however, the fact that audiences were able to connect and feel for Donahue, Williams, and Leonard is an indication of solid character work.
In concept, the story is very simple. Back in the 1990s, found footage was barely a genre until The Blair Witch Project stepped in. These days, the found footage genre isn’t really known for great films. There are some gems like Paranormal Activity, Searching, and V/H/S, but the genre is mainly filled with stinkers. The Blair Witch Project’s story doesn’t stick out as something new and original in 2021. The main reason The Blair Witch Project worked so well in 1999 is due to the clever marketing and the found-footage gimmick.
Another key difference in today’s culture is social media. The marketing team wouldn’t have been able to promote the film as they did in 1999 since this generation is a bit wiser to movie tactics and tricks. Overall, the story isn’t bad and it’s a testament to the directing skills of Eduardo Sanchez that the film turned out so well. But, The Blair Witch Project doesn’t really separate itself much from other supernatural stories and it wouldn’t have been such a phenomenon if it came out today.
The Blair Witch
The tactic of never showing the villain throughout the film was actually very smart. It creates an unpredictability that’s notably lacking in most horror films today. By today’s standards, the scares are pedestrian and tame at best. There isn’t one moment that truly scares the crap out of you. Still, the film is compelling when the anxiety cranks up and the witch’s antics become more apparent. Eduardo Sanchez does an excellent job of never making the scares too over-the-top and the jump scares are few.
However, The Blair Witch Project goes out on a high note with its final image of Mike facing the wall and Donahue and Leonard being killed off one by one. It’s creep stuff and the director does a good job of building to this climax. The Blair Witch may not be Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, but the filmmakers do a strong job of stating that what you can’t see could be just as scary.
Overall, The Blair Witch Project was a movie that can out during the perfect time. Honestly, it wouldn’t have had such a huge impact if this found-footage horror came out tomorrow because this type of film has been done countless times. Nevertheless, this is a good slow-burn horror film that is still worth a watch.
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