THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 87 Minutes
Release Date: July 11, 1999
With a little word of mouth and a great internet campaign, it
didnt take long for The Blair Witch Project to
grow from an inexpensively made little independent film to nothing short of a major
cultural event. Movie goers flocked to the
theatres, and soon, a movie that was made for about the cost of a new car had raked in
over $140 million domestically. Not everyone
loved the film
and Ill address a couple of the complaints further down
the point is, people went, and while expensive but empty romps like Wild Wild West floundered, a truly unique and
imaginative picture made on a shoestring became one of the years biggest hits. One can only hope Hollywood was paying attention.
The Blair Witch Project is
a complete success, and at the time of this writing, is still my pick for best movie of
the year. I loved the film because what it
lacked in production value it made up for with imagination and guts. One need only peruse the web site, or the book, or
even the features on this disc to begin to comprehend just how well thought-out the entire
concept really was. Which is a valuable
lessonit doesnt cost money to think.
This was a horror movie that could almost be considered anti-horror. None of the conventional scare flick elements
exist here. Theres no score. There are no special effects. There are no sudden loud music cues to make you
jump. There are no mask wearing killers, and
there are no creepy phantoms. We never really
see what the terror is. And because of that,
its all the more frightening.
The movie purports to be the footage filmed by three university
students who disappeared in the woods while trying to make a documentary about a local
legend known as the Blair Witch. With that
simple premise, directors and writers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez turned their
budget limitations into an asset to the story. Hence,
the movie is filmed in 16 mm black and white, and on Super 8 home video, and we accept it.
So Heather, Josh and Mike (their real names) head off into the woods,
but what starts out easy enough becomes more and more frustrating and frightening. They get lost, and appear to be walking in
circles. The food runs out. What was supposed to be a two day trip turns into
a week. And worst of all, something they
cant see, but can certainly hear, seems to be stalking them.
The tension and fear build simultaneously, as after a few days, the
bickering gets worse, the situation gets bleaker, and the terror becomes more and more
manifest. And by the time the films reaches
its terrific climax, you will be just about completely unnerved. In fact, this movie kept me up all night when I
first saw it, and no horror film had done that to me since I watched The Exorcist for the first time as a child.
But some movie goers havent shown quite the same enthusiasm for
the film. One of the major complaints is the
camera movement, which has reportedly made some theatre patrons motion sick. Its true the cameras move quite a bit, as
the characters walk, climb, and run while they film, but I though the effect very
authentic. It looks like most home movies,
which adds to the realism. And my sister,
whos more prone to motion sickness than anybody I know, claimed she didnt have
a problem with it.
Some have also complained about Heathers character being a bit
too bossy and aggressive with her filming. Again,
this is a point that I found completely authentic. Having
worked with some amateur filmmakers in the past, I can truly say that Heather nailed it. These people do tend to turn into Erich von
Stroheim on you, and they really do think that with meager equipment and a couple of
friends that theyre going to make Citizen
Kane. Plus, Heathers early
confidence makes for a nice contrast to how she comes apart later, when shes
freezing, tired, hungry and scared out of her mind. All
three cast members are terrific, but I really do applaud Miss Donahue loudly for her work
in turning in one of the most courageous performances of the year.
And some have also said the movie just flat out didnt scare
them. What can I say? I cant tell you if this movie will have the
same effect on you as it did on me. but I cant help but think if you really pay
attention from frame one, and let the movie work its slowly building spell on you,
and if you have the kind of imagination that kicks in when a film deliberately
doesnt show you too much, you might just have a restless night of your own
This is not the best looking disc youll own, nor could it be. Having seen the film three times theatrically, I can say that this DVD is an excellent reproduction of what basically is limited source material. In other words, 16 mm and home video footage will never look spectacular. There is noticeable grain in darker scenes, but thats how it looked on the big screen.
The soundtrack was only recorded in surround, but keep the house nice
and quiet and youll find the listening experience rather ambient and
unnerving. The disc could have opted for enhanced 5.1 sound, which would have been
extra creepy given the nature of the film, but it would have taken away some of the
primitive documentary illusion, so in the end, I think this was the right way to go.
I don't think those who watch will find many complaints.
The disc contains a terrific commentary by the directors and
producers, a total of 4 trailers, the Curse of the Blair Witch documentary
that aired on the Sci Fi Channel, production notes, bios, the mythology, and some cool DVD
ROM features. There is also a deleted scene,
which is nothing spectacular.
It may not have pleased everybody, but given the success of the film, its safe to say it has reached some people. The Blair Witch Project is an imaginative triumph of talent over money brilliantly conceived, well acted, and with a genuine feel for whats really scary. And thanks to Artisans terrific DVD release, this little film can be explored and discussed time and time again in the comfort of your own home with access to a light switch, if needed.