The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on July 31st, 1999.
Here are some updated thoughts: Hot on the heals of the new Blair Witch movie (really?) to be released September 16, 2016, it’s time to dust off this review.
In the summer of 1999 the amount of hype surrounding this indie movie was unreal, most of it stemming from fans trying to convince people that it was all real, and not a mockumentary or found footage film. The Blair Witch Project really isn’t that good when you cut through all the hype. It’s just three people stumbling around in the woods for a few days finding stick figure dolls. But the reason I gave it the score I did is because it created a new genre of film, most of the film was shot ad lib, and the makers only spent $60,000. Since release it’s made almost a quarter of a billion dollars! Talk about a new paradigm. Now, to be honest, the genre is did create has spit out a slew of almost unwatchable garbage over the years. But kudos to the makers for capturing that lightning in a bottle for the first time. I’ve not watched the movie since release.
I’ve been following The Blair Witch Project for quite some time, so I was pretty excited to kick out of work a little early to catch a matinee. We walked into the local mall only to see a small line. Great, I thought to myself, should be plenty of room. WRONG! We walked into the theater as the previews rolled to find it jam packed, mostly with teenagers it seemed since it was summer. We’re talking some serious hype put behind this movie, mostly internet based. I’ve only seen one ad on the television in all these months!
The movie is presented in a documentary style with the characters doing all their own filming, also known as “found footage” technique. Heather Donahue is the leader of a trio who set out to make a documentary about the Blair Witch — a witch that is said to haunt the woods surrounding Burkittsville, MD. Joshua Leonard is the 8mm camera operator, and Michael Williams is the DAT (digital audio tape) sound operator. Now, because the movie is filmed this way (8mm, Hi-8, and DAT) the quality is what you would see on a home video. To top it off, the aspect ratio of the entire film is nearly 1:1 . . . thus only the very center of the movie screen is ever used. This will irritate theater purists to no end.
Back to the story. After interviewing several people in Burkittsville, they set off into the woods looking for Coffin Rock and other Blair Witch landmarks. During the night strange things start to happen and creepy things are heard crawling through the woods outside their tent. During the day, their relationships begin to crumble (as do their psyches) as they begin to realize what is going to happen to them. Eventually they become completely lost, as all characters in horror movies are want to do, but mostly likely due to some otherworldly interference from Miss Blair. At this point they quickly descend into bickering madness and despair, and are constantly at each other’s throats . . . all the while the film is rolling away. The last thing I’ll mention about the story is that Joshua Leonard is the first to disappear.
A year later their footage was found.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
But Neal, is this movie scary?! I’m glad you asked. The “scary” factor of this movie is so subjective . . . some people calling it one of the scariest movies ever made. No. I was not scared at all; not in the least; not even a goose pimple . . . but then again, I have a high tolerance for fear. It takes a lot to scare me these days. Your mileage may vary. The last time I was truly frightened when I watched a movie was when I saw The Exorcist as a kid. Granted, I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to watch The Exorcist as a child, but what’s done is done. Oh man, every night afterwards I could swear my bed was moving around! I believe that going through what they went through (actually being out in the dark woods) would be a TRULY horrifying experience if it were to happen in real life. But the film just didn’t seem to pull off the scare effectively. At least not for me.
The Blair Witch Project has a lot going for it. It’s definitely an engaging and engrossing film going experience, with some genuinely tense moments. As a whole the acting was very good from these three unknowns. The film is also a unique, genre-breaking effort made with almost no budget ($60,000). Filmed over an 8 day period, the three actors where apparently dumped out in the woods with the basic premise and the equipment. Using GPS they were guided to certain areas where things would happen . . . improvisation was the key here, and the actors did an excellent job!
Now, at this point I have to say something about the internet community that believed (or still believes) that this is a true story, and not a fictitious found film movie. This is ridiculous, please get a grip. One easy clue (aside from the fact that witches don’t exist)? Just look at the missing poster on the official site . . . the phone number has a 555 prefix. Fake. This is the kind of hype that has been generated by this film . . . and the makers and distributor are loving every minute of it as they deposit their huge checks. The Blair Witch Project will rule supreme at the box office this weekend, and will probably be known for the movie that has the highest cost/profit percentage in the history of films for a long time to come! In fact, FX (the television network) just shelled out $10 million for the rights to broadcast it. Wow.
If you want some more background as to the story and history behind this intriguing film watch the The Curse of the Blair Witch on the SciFi Channel.
Somewhat tense and engrossing: yes. Unique and genre-breaking: yes. Scary: ummm…No. Making the creators rich: yup. Definitely worth checking out, but the casual movie goer will probably ask themselves: “I paid $8 to watch a home movie?!”
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.