“I just want to apologize to Mike's mom, Josh's mom, and my mom. And I'm sorry to everyone. I was very naive. I am so so sorry for everything that has happened. Because in spite of what Mike says now, it is my fault. Because it was my project and I insisted. I insisted on everything. I insisted that we weren't lost. I insisted that we keep going. I insisted that we walk south. Everything had to be my way. And this is where we've ended up and it's all because of me that we're here now - hungry, cold, and hunted. I love you mom, dad. I am so sorry. What is that? I'm scared to close my eyes, I'm scared to open them! We're gonna die out here!”
– Heather Donahue
It’s hard for me to believe that this film is seventeen years old! Where on Earth did the time go?
To put it in perspective, this film came out in the first year I was online – a regular inhabitant of the internet, during the evening and twilight hours when it was cheaper to make the connection via dial-up. (Lordy – remember THOSE days?) I was finding my way around the World Wide Web, making connections, exploring. I remember discovering the IMDb and was unable to comprehend how such an amazing resource of film information was actually right there at my fingertips for the asking.
It was also when I found the Ain’t It Cool News website, a site I visit every day – to this very day. And it was on AICN that as I recall, I heard mention of some found footage of some students who had gone missing while filming a documentary. At this point – I wasn’t aware of the concept of something “going viral” and that what was happening was actually a cunning marketing strategy for a really cheaply made film, with the central premise of being found footage – the last days of a doomed expedition.
Naïve as my gullibility might seem now, I believe that The Blair Witch Project was the first of the glut of found footage films that would follow. Some of them have been great, Cloverfield, and the truly awesome Almanac Project. Some have been terrifying – Paranormal Activity. Even Josh trank made a decent one in Chronicle (shame he then blew his career on Fantastic 4). But Blair Witch has a special place in heart – because it was my first.
The online campaign that led up to the release was both intense and completely credible. It was deceptively simple as is the film itself. I even owned one of the t-shirts that had the appeal for information about the missing students on it. Happy days.
I guess the clincher was a mock TV documentary that was released, giving the background to the story of the Blair Witch who terrorised the inhabitants of the town of Blair, currently the site of Burkittsville, Maryland. The legend is a fabrication by writer/directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick. An old lady accused of witchcraft in the 17th century was condemned to death by exposure – that is she was cast into the woods in winter with no food, nor shelter to die of starvation and hypothermia. Her spirit is said to have been seen as an apparition and has led to several more killings. Most notably a child killing serial murderer living in the woods as a hermit in the 1940s who claimed he had been possessed by the Blair Witch to do her bidding.
There was even a book detailing the legend, with further “eye witness interviews” with the locals to further fill out the grim details. It was an awesome time.
When the film was released, it was like the punchline to the whole enterprise. Cheaply made, and at times hard to watch, particularly at the cinema where the jerky constant movement of a hand held camera being worked by someone who was walking would make audiences feel queasy. The film followed three students who went into the woods to discover the legend of the Blair Witch and to film an investigative documentary.
The three, Heather, Josh and Michael were, in a unique approach to film making, dropped in the woods with cameras and instructions giving a brief outline of the broad strokes of the script and the filming was actually done by them out on location. The film’s scarier moments, when they’re tormented by noises in the woods at night were actually filmed when the directors played tapes of children crying and accompanied this with noises of moaning and laughter at the dead of night – so all the terror seen on screen is actually real.
So, as the three go deeper into the woods, they get lost. Hopelessly so. (Despite their seemingly constant walking around in circles to the same river – it never occurs to them to follow the river, thus breaking the circle.) Also, they encounter several small stone structures surrounding their camp and wander into an area with several small stick effigies of people hanging from trees. All the while hearing sinister noises at night when they’re trying to sleep. This causes the group to start infighting and fragmenting.
A strange slime covers the belongings of Josh one morning, as though he has been marked. He goes missing the following day. Later, a small package is left outside their tents containing Josh’s teeth and a part of his tongue.
Eventually, Heather and Michael encounter a deserted ruin of a house, presumably that of the child killing murderer of the forties. We don’t see what attacks the two remaining members of the party, but this is where the camera is knocked to the floor and the film ends.
Seen without the benefit of the supporting documentary and book – not to mention the website with its updates back in 1999, the film is an amateurish, badly executed effort with long interludes where the viewer is looking at literally nothing but a black screen. At other times, the bickering and bitching between the cast members seems to go on and on endlessly. But check out the mock documentary also on the disc – and it enhances the whole experience and gives the film some depth and meaning.
In a little postscript, I’d like to name drop and mention that back at the time when the website was active and the film’s popularity was at its peak, you could actually chat with the writer directors online, live. So it was that Ed Sanchez was online on Halloween 2000, the year after the film was released. He had returned to Burkittsville, Maryland for the holiday. He had been criticised heavily by the townsfolk a year earlier for running their privacy with all the publicity for the film and they were plagued with curious fans who wanted to visit the locations for the film.
Well, on Halloween, he told me, Burkittsville residents had decorated the whole town, commemorating it as the location of The Blair Witch project and were making money hand over fist in a curious reversal of their objections.
Buy it on Amazon on this link.
Copyright © 2010 - 2016 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.