Genre Classics #1 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

If you know me well enough then you’ve probably heard the story of the first time I watched The Blair Witch Project. It was the first time my parents had let me stay up late and my older siblings and I had come to a group decision that this would be the film of the night. My brother, a keen film enthusiast like me, produced some the finest acting I have ever seen and explained that this was a real film. In my naivety, I believed him and watched as the film began with onscreen text that read “In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. A year later their footage was discovered.”

The rest of the film blew me away. The found footage format had existed long before The Blair Witch Project had come out but first time directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez used the format in exciting new ways to tell an already old story. From the children laughing to Heather’s tearful apology that turns into a breakdown, the imagery is wonderfully simplistic yet still utterly terrifying. The climactic scene where Heather and Mike search for Josh in the house is the best scene in the film. An unforgettable sequence that culminates in a shocking finale image that is without doubt one of the best endings of not only the genre but for all films.

As the film ended, my brother casually informed me of the fakery of the movie. Nevertheless, it took a long time to process what I had just seen. The movie was incredibly clever with its own rich mythology to accompany it. Years later, Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) directed an impressive sequel that despite updating the story, still wasn’t able to beat the original. To this day, I still tell people that this was the film that turned me into the film geek I am today.

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2 thoughts on “Genre Classics #1 The Blair Witch Project (1999)

  1. All I can say is “To each his own.” I do mean that, and would not want to argue against the validity of your personal experience. One of the great things about kids is that they can become inspired by practically anything, regardless of quality. It’s part of a child’s capacity for excitement from experiencing an increased pulse rate – for any or no reason at all. Now that I’m in my 60s, I look back at what I used to LOVE on TV and at the movies as a boy, and shake my head in utter disbelief. If I were you I would think twice about admitting this was the original source for your inspiration, unless you are among very forgiving friends.

    I can certainly see why Blair Witch would fool a child, but it was the early instance of an internet-driven hype campaign that fooled enough ticket buyers to turn a huge profit before the mixed word of mouth got out. It’s a clever cheat that won’t ever work as well again. As a business/sales concept, it was brilliant. As a technical piece of filmmaking, it’s garbage. The “shaky cam” in running scenes is so disorienting when show n on a full-size theater screen, it has been known to cause vomiting.

    I can enjoy movies that are so bad they are fun, and I did have a fun experience watching this in Los Angeles, in an audience of movie industry insiders. (I was a sound editor then.) These were people who knew exactly how the sausages are made, and they were angry at first, until some audience members began arguing back at the screen. After the 50th or so time a fearful onscreen character says, “What was that?”, people started responding with things like ” I dropped my popcorn woooOOOOooo!” When Heather Donahue offered her tearful close-up apology, a man stood up and shouted, “Hey! Apologize to US. We paid to see this crap!” He got a big round of applause.

    The producers and writer-directors haven’t made anything since except some straight-to-DVD/VOD horror features, none of which has brought in more than $800k in profit. (Blair Witch made 250 MILLION on a $60k budget.) Heather Donahue won the “worst actress” Razzie that year, and after a few less-successful roles, gave up acting to grow medical marijuana. Mike Williams also gave up acting and is studying to be a guidance counselor. Josh Leonard seems to be the only person associated with the movie whose career improved
    (at least on TV) afterward. He’s still getting character roles on legit TV shows.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting point of view. When I say things like first film that got my into the film geek I am today, I mean got me into a different way of thinking in regards to films. I have of course grown up since watching The Blair Witch Project and frequently credit Another Earth to be my favourite film. I appreciate the impact The Blair Witch Project had on me and I truly believe it to be a effective horror movie but I do also recognise that the marketing on this film is fantastic and a huge reason why this film is so successful. However, the acting, script, production etc also make the film so memorable Again To each his own 🙂 Thanks for the comment and feel free to follow me.

      Liked by 1 person

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