Day 6: The Blair Witch Project

Day 6 of Calloween Movie Month

Content warnings: shaky cam, blood, fatphobic language

Recommended?: Yes

Spoilers and discussion of many of the mentioned topics below. You have been warned.

The scariest thing about this movie is imagining the smell of three film students sharing a tent.

The Blair Witch Project | Screen Slate

The Blair Witch Project (which I'll be calling Blair Witch from here on out for the sake of brevity) is an interesting film to watch for the first time thirty years after its creation. A lot of the original hype around this film rested on its marketing campaign, the era it was released in, and the general lack of skepticism that the average person might have had at the time. Without all this, you may be prone to think that it doesn't stand on its own as a genuinely unnerving piece of horror cinema, but you'd be wrong.

Blair Witch is about three amateur filmmakers Heather, Mike and Josh as they attempt to document their journey through the woods to separate fact from fiction about an urban legend that exists in their small Maryland town.

They start out with an air of professionalism, but as they get lost and fear sets in, it quickly disappears.

It's no secret that people in movies don't really speak the way people would in an actual conversation. There's a lot of reasons for this, from the natural stilt of even the most seasoned actors reading from a script, to what would sound good and be comprehensible through camera lenses and microphones. But a big part of this movie's success in creating a creepy atmosphere is that it's hard not to feel like you're watching real people.

I think not having a script really helps with this. When they fight, it feels like a real argument. When they cry or scream, it feels genuine. When they laugh at each other's dumb jokes, it feels like three friends cracking each other up. The opening interviews too. It could pass for interviews you got from randoms off the street. The way the mother mouths her real feelings about the myth after telling her distressed son that what she was saying wasn't true, the fishermen arguing and bickering and talking over each other, the old man who rambles off the top of his head. There's such a naturalism to every single line delivery that it can almost read as something that's actually happening before your eyes.

It's very subtle, too. They never show the Blair Witch herself, and only a handful of things actually happen to them directly. This allows the ambiguity to dig its claws into you and let your mind fill in the blanks.

Is anything supernatural even happening, or is it just these three losing their minds in the woods. If there is something supernatural, is it actually sinister? Is it the Blair Witch herself for is something even worse waiting for them in the woods? Did one of the interviewees follow them and start fucking with their heads, or are spirits trapped in the woods hunting prey?

It's this sense of certainty and unease that permeates throughout and delivers a wholly unique experience.

I think Heather herself describes this filmmaking philosophy best when she says "I don't wanna go cheesy. I really wanna avoid any cheese. I wanna present this in as straightforward a way as possible and I think the legend is unsettling enough." And she was more right than she could've known.

To make effective horror, you don't need to rely on crazy gore or special effects, you just need to let things ride and have your viewers fill in the blanks. The human mind is a powerful tool for creating fear.

I particularly like the design of the stick dolls. They're so simple and easy to miss that anytime they show branches I thought there was another one there, it's great at creating paranoia.

The dialogue is really great, especially since it's all improvised. It's insane to me to be able to come up with "are you gonna write us a happy ending Heather?" off the top of your head. Just brilliant.

The scenes where nobody talks much are just as engaging, though. The house scene is the strongest in the movie and part of what makes it work is that we don't hear them quip or point out every creepy thing around them. You're left to notice things like nooses and black handprints and chips falling off the walls on your own and you can only imagine their hearts pumping as they run through it all.

The Blair Witch Project is brilliant, subtle, and iconic. It's one I can see myself revisiting often, if I'm ever brave enough for it.

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