By Rob Blackwelder
To quote Dan Aykroyd in the "Twilight Zone" movie: "Youwanna see something really scary?"
I'm not talking about the jump you get from cats leapingout of cupboards in "boo!" movies. I'm not talking about Freddy,Jason or Michael. I'm not talking about kitchen-knife slashers, killerdolls or pop culture-savvy sweater girls with their guts spilling out.That's kids' stuff. That's the kind of movie you see when you want yourdate to jump in your lap.
"The Blair Witch Project" isn't designed to makeyou jump. It isn't designed to gross you out. "The Blair Witch Project"is designed to make you fidget, then make you panic, then make you losea night's sleep because you can't shake the psychosomatic sensation ofbeing scared out of your wits. "The Blair Witch Project" is scarybecause -- unlike factory-produced horror movies -- it seems so real.
Snatched up at Sundance after frightening the bejesus outof cynical, upper crust, Hollywood types, "Blair Witch" purportsto be the found footage of a film school documentary crew that disappearedin the Maryland wilderness in 1994 while making a non-fiction film aboutlocal witchcraft and serial killer lore.
Shot on video and 16mm film, it has a disturbingly homemovie feel, as the footage pieces together the last few days of three youngfilmmakers who get lost in the woods and begin to unravel and turn on eachother as they're stalked by seemingly supernatural forces.
Starting off light and humorous, the picture introducesus to ambitious film student Heather Donahue, cameraman Josh Leonard andsoundman Michael Williams (to heighten realism, the actors' names are thecharacters' names) as they pal around while interviewing locals about theportentous legends of children's murders and hauntings over the centuries.
But when they become lost, their nights are spent huddledin a small tent while horrible noises -- footsteps, screams and moans thatare maddeningly hard to make out on their sound equipment -- surround them.Each morning they wake up to find evidence that someone or something hadbeen inside their camp. Each day they try and fail to find their car, oreven a road. Then on the fifth morning two of them wake up to find thethird missing. The following night, more lost than ever, its his screamsthey hear in the cold forest ethers.
Because of Heather's egocentric determination to captureevery moment of her project, at least one of the cameras is always on --held by Heather, Josh or both -- capturing every moment, every emotionof their hungry, hunted nightmare.
The concoction of writers-directors-editors Daniel Myrickand Eduardo Sanchez, "The Blair Witch Project" is a wildly creativeexperiment in human nature.
Following more of an outline than a script, their actorsare not asked to pretend, they're made to believe as terrifying scenestake shape for the first time before your eyes. Leonard, Williams and especiallyDonahue have submerged themselves in their characters' circumstances. They'recold, they're lost, they're angry, they're scared. But Heather insiststhe cameras keep rolling, holding the audience rapt in incredible tension.
While it achieves the exact, Pavlovian audience reactionit's going for, earning what would be a four star review for creativityand undeniable realism, "The Blair Witch Project" loses a pointbecause the characters are lacking a reasonable amount of common sense-- the movie's single, unavoidable flaw.
They're not experienced outdoorsmen. Neither am I. ButI know enough -- even in a panic -- to follow the stream bed they comeback to again and again, to use the lights on their cameras to light theirway and keep moving at night, or if I did stop, to light a couple reallybig fires and stay between them.
Not that any of this would do a bit of good against whateverit is that haunts the woods in "Blair Witch," but at least theywouldn't have been sitting ducks, as Heather, Josh and Michael are forlarge parts of this movie.
Still, this film is scary on a whole new scale. It's notjust exponentially terrifying, but unsettling and disturbing because itdoesn't feel like fiction for even a second.
Run time: 81 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th July 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $248M
Budget: $25 thousand
Distributed by: Artisan Pictures
Production compaines: Haxan Films, Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 133 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Starring: Heather Donahue as Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard as Joshua 'Josh' Leonard, Michael C. Williams as Michael 'Mike' Williams, Bob Griffith as Short Fisherman, Jim King as Interviewee, Sandra Sánchez as Waitress (as Sandra Sanchez), Ed Swanson as Fisherman With Glasses, Patricia DeCou as Mary Brown, Mark Mason as Man in Yellow Hat, Jackie Hallex as Interviewee with Child
Also starring: Michael Williams
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