RJ Bayley Reviews: The Blair Witch Project

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Released in 1999, The Blair Witch Project is the granddaddy of the Found Footage genre. Yes, Cannibal Holocaust toyed with the genre before it, but never had a film experimented with the form so absolutely.

In terms of plot the film has tunnel vision: student documentary makers Heather (Heather Donahue), Michael, (Michael C. Williams) and Joshua (Joshua Leonard) head out into the Burkittsville woods in search of the Blair Witch, a journey in which they gradually get lost and tormented by unseen forces.

The film takes some time to get into the horror sections, however this build-up works well. The interviews with locals regarding the legend fascinate due to the brilliant tactic of not letting the actors know who is a real local and who is a planted actor.

Its this almost free-form method of storytelling that allows it to transcend its plot and many other films in the genre that would follow it. The actors all improvise their lines, and they all excel at dramatic improvisation; its surprising audiences haven’t seen them in more mainstream films. The building tension in group as they become increasingly lost, is convincing and riveting.

The scares are also fantastic and hold up to repeated viewing. The slow build-up and realistic interviews really pay off in the latter half of the film as they truly reinforce the unease and genuine creeps that a real documentary can bring. The haphazard camera work is also fantastic, making the moments when the protagonists are disturbed at night properly frightening.

The disturbances are the high point of the film and its the fact that they are  not at all over-the-top or cinematic that gives them their power. Coupled with one of the most eerie endings in horror history, The Blair Witch Project is a classic.

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One thought on “RJ Bayley Reviews: The Blair Witch Project

  • atybydw@gmail.com'
    November 27, 2013 at 8:54 pm
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    I saw Blair Witch when it first came out and was amazed. I wasn’t expecting it to work as well as it did but the “non acting” acting of the three leads is superb. The found footage style prevents the use of sweeping, dramatic shots so keeps the whole film very intimate and claustrophobic even though it’s setting is such a vast forest. Seeing the forest through their eyes allows the audience to recall the walking through the woods of their youth and how creepy they could sometimes be (well it did for me anyhow.)
    I remember thinking however that surely no-one would carry on filming these events when it started to get really scary but a few days after 9/11 I saw some footage filmed by a doctor who was making his way towards the Twin Towers to see if he could help. He was using his camera just as the first Tower collapsed but continued to film and commentate even though he was engulfed in a vast cloud of dust and rubble. I found it amazing (and a little unsettling) that he didn’t stop filming. But it did show the strange need of people to record events around them, even the terrible ones.

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