After two decades of ‘found footage’ movies, its easy to overlook the influential and powerfully effective flick that started it all, The Blair Witch Project. Today, the low-fi filmmaking may seem silly and dated. But back in the summer of 1999, this movie scared me senseless. I worked at a theater during that summer season and I remember people being so overwhelmed by the picture they had to physically leave the auditorium. It was an astounding a vivid movie memory for me. The film itself more than lived up to its pre-release hype. It was rumored to have been some sort of ‘snuff’ footage but it was actually just a well-staged put-on that delivers because the viewer’s imagination is forced to do the work. This ingenious concept would spawn many imitators but none with the skill and chills of The Blair Witch Project.
Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind. The film starts with a title card informing us that the people on-screen have been discovered deceased and their footage was found a year after the events. We see the group before their excursion to Maryland in search of their subject. They interview local townspeople and others who warn of the danger in doing a project on such an unsavory topic. This doesn’t deter the trio of filmmakers as they enter the woods on their fateful journey.
The Blair Witch Project contains a sense of dread that I have felt in very few film experiences. The oncoming threat of nightfall and another encounter with the Witch is almost too much to withstand as the group wanders around the woods aimlessly lost. Many have expressed the terror the terror they felt watching The Exorcist, but the film never resonated with me. Now, being lost in the woods in something I fear and The Blair Witch hits all the right notes in that department. The idea of making a ‘mock’ doc was a stroke of artistic genius. The story would have played weak if this had been done in a conventional style. Rewatching the film twenty years later it still hits home and proves that concept and imaginative execution will endlessly enthrall audiences.
Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard