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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