There aren’t many movies, not just horror movies, as iconic and influential as The Blair Witch Project. At the time it managed to “trick” a generation of people, convincing many that the “found footage” the movie uses could actually be genuine and the story could be real. For many others, it opened the doors to the possibilities of “Found Footage” as a genre and certainly inspired a lot imitators and some that even bettered what it started.
The low-budget and very amateur feel is the key to the whole movie. This is a horror movie which makes use of what little it has and doesn’t rely on anything too forced for it’s scares. It doesn’t have any real “jump-scares” or “cattle-prod” moments and instead relies on the tension and impending dread to build the horror.
That is the best aspect of The Blair Witch Project: it is scary! When watched for the first time, the audience is never at ease. You never know when the three key characters are safe and even though they are not the most likable of people, you are on their side and most importantly of all, feeling their terror as they do.
This is of course helped by the format the movie is shot in. “Found Footage” brings the audience closer than ever to the way the character is feeling and experiencing the events on-screen. It will only do so much though and it is also up to the actors themselves to help sell that fear. Luckily, The Blair Witch Project has three great actors.
At this point all three were fairly unknown as actors (and arguably still are). The “project” is led by Heather Donahue, her camera-man is Joshua Leonard and her sound-man is Michael Williams. To add to the effect of the “authenticity” of the movie, the characters kept their “real-life” names for the movie so if you research them, they won’t instantly be recognised as actors. It is a shame though because all three performances are great and deserved to be recognised as the movie elicits a range of emotions and actions from the trio.
The actors are forced to sell the terror because what you see on-screen is so little. A lot of the “scares” are sounds or implied terror, like piles of rocks to signify graves or the now iconic “stick-dolls” made from parts of the forest. The audience’s imagination fills in the gaps and this is so effective that when you reach the finale, your nerves are shredded.
The finale is perfect. It is ambiguous enough but also cleverly linked to the seemingly innocuous interviews at the beginning. The screaming and frantic searching around the recently discovered house, paired with the imagery like the bloodied hand-prints on the wall, makes for a great way to end the low-budget movie.
Overall, The Blair Witch Project arguably started the “Found Footage” craze which then dominated horror for a long while. What many people tried to imitate, The Blair Witch Project perfected on the first time of trying. It is terrifying but without cheap scares. It is haunting and the finale will stay with you long after the movie has ended.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)