2. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Though The Blair Witch Project gets a lot of credit, it’s not enough.
It’s true the film can be praised/blamed for the recent spate of “found footage” films plaguing theaters these days like the popular Paranormal Activity films, but none of them can hold a shaky flashlight next to the sheer brilliance of The Blair Witch Project.
The film is supposedly composed of camera footage discovered years after the disappearance of three aspiring film students who became lost in the woods while filming a documentary about local urban myth, the Blair Witch. The film begins slowly, with the students interviewing locals before hiking off into the forest, cameras in hand, for a two day hike to film the locations associated with the killings behind the myth. But things go wrong quickly as the trio loose their map and become lost while unseen and heckling pursuers follow their every move.
At the time, the idea behind the film’s production and marketing was revolutionary. Give the three actors a quick lesson on how to film with a camera and set them loose into the woods with the barest bones of a script to shoot themselves. The entire time the film’s directors would leave daily messages to prod the actors with motivations while they hid outside of view to harass the actors.
Because of the great pains taken to make everything improvisational, the film feels very real. This realism was the cornerstone of the Blair Witch’s brilliant marketing campaign which helped the film pull in $248 million at the box office. Impressive considering the film cost only $22,500 to make.
The Blair Witch Project was released back in 1999, in the early days of the internet, which no film has used better since for marketing. The movie and it’s premise went viral before anybody even knew the meaning of the word thanks to a brilliantly designed website that sold home the mystery of the film’s premise as a real and actual event. The mythology of the Blair Witch was explored along with short bios of the missing students that looked legit. So effective was the advertising campaign that even after viewing the film, audiences were left questioning whether the film was real or fake.
Like Jaws, The Blair Witch Project fully embraces a minimalist style of storytelling. The Blair Witch is never seen nor are the stalking antagonists who track the students. Instead of monsters and gore the film presents the viewer with an endless landscape of trees and shadows. The shaky and grainy handheld cameras add to the constant feeling of dread that permeates the movie.
The scares in the Blair Witch aren’t jump ones nor are they gory. The film hardly has any blood at all apart from some pulled teeth. No, the scares here are all psychological. Was that a sound you just heard in the background? The characters didn’t hear it. Did you? What could it be? A bear? Wait, what makes a sound like that? Is it getting closer? Oh my God, WHAT is it?
I remember watching the film when it came out in theaters, I wasn’t a fan of it back then, and turned around to watch the audience during a slower scene. People were either glued with eye balls wide open at the screen or had their heads buried in the shoulder of their significant others.
Wondering if I mad missed a scary part I looked back at the screen to see nothing but trees and rocks.
Trees an rocks.
As I said, the Blair Witch Project deserves more respect than it gets.
FUN FACT: While in theaters, Heather Donahue‘s mother received sympathy cards from people who believed that her daughter was actually dead or missing.