I saw the Blair Witch Project in the theaters, WAAAAY back in 1999. I didn’t know what to expect, and if you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time you’ll know I love horror movies and fiction and games, and I figured something like TBWP would be right up my alley!
It was and it wasn’t.
In the theater, the movie bemused me. The camera work was offputting, but these days you could put a smartphone in the hands of a toddler and achieve the same effect. I loved the American gothic setup of the legend, evoking not only the horror of the witch trials but the possibility that, if they were real, they would want vengeance for their treatment. Colonial America was a new world still stuck in the old world mindset, and nothing brings people together like ostracizing others. Even the “characters” had their charm: stolid, level-headed Mike, with his hangdog expression and flannel; laidback and good natured Josh, channeling the ultimate Gen-X male; and shrill, pain in the ass Heather.
Before I go too much further, I need to point out that Heather Donogue has already taken a metric ton of shit for her portrayal of control-freak Heather. She based her performance on a colleague she had known, who insisted on taking control of situations only to fall to pieces constantly. So she really turned in a great performance at being a massive pain in the balls.
The movie certainly creeped me out. There was the lost in the woods at night thing, the creepy half-heard sounds thing, all the little weird stone cairns left around, and some woven stick-sculptures. But I left the theater thinking that while it was fun and a lark, it wasn’t genuinely scary.
That came later.
On that score, I feel TBWP delivered.
Good horror stays with you. The dark parts of your mind pick and choose things from the images and ideas presented, and tuck them away to germinate, and spread. Then when you’re alone, those things come creeping back out from the cracks and shadows.
The first freakout came when I was home alone. I was in my second year of college and home visiting my parents, sleeping in my old room. They were out of town for some reason or another, and as I lay in my childhood bed in the darkness, I suddenly remembered the image from the end of the movie, of Mike, standing in the corner with his face to the wall. My room was on the south side of the house, and there was about seventy feet between our house and the street, so the streetlights cast dark shadows from treelimbs and leaf clusters over the once-familiar interior of my room. My heart raced and my eyes bulged as i lay alone in the dark, sure that if i looked, I would see Mike in my room, standing in the corner with his face to the wall.
The second freakout came a few weeks later. I was in the habit of running at a nearby park in at dusk. The park was familiar, was somewhere I had been dozens of times. But that night it was almost deserted, sinking into darkness as the sun fell down the sky. There had been a storm, and pine needles and sticks were scattered all over the ground. As I was running I looked up into the trees, and a trick of the eye made it seem as if the treetops were filled with the little woven totems shown throughout the movie. DOZENS of them, just hanging in the air, revealing my impending doom. There was a shudder, a squawk, and then a feat of athleticism that I have never again been capable of. I may have run the world’s only half-minute mile.
As I was rewatching the movie a few nights ago I remembered something my French teacher of the same year said of the movie. She was talking about a recent hurricane that had come through. The news had basically warned us this hurricane would be the end of earth, but it turned out to be just a series of heavy thunderstorms, which is always a relief in our, fair but oft hurricane-ravaged state.
“It was kind of like the Blair Witch Project. A lot of hype, a lot of sticks lying around, but nothing really happened.”
Still though, I enjoyed the film and the waves of nostalgia it brought back. And it’s certainly something to study for aspiring film-makers since it made disgusting amounts of money despite being an independent movie.
It’s available on Instant Watch!