THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
Three college students, Heather Donahue (the director), Joshua Leonard
(the cameraman), and Michael Williams (the sound engineer), are said to
have been lost in 1994 while attempting to make a college film project involving
the legend of a witch who lived centuries ago in remote Maryland. At the
beginning of the film, they are seen preparing for a camping weekend, packing,
joking, interviewing locals from Burkittsville, Md. (formerly Blair), and
setting off into the woods with a video camcorder, a 16 millimeter movie
camera, and a digital audio tape recorder. After their planned documentary
seems a bust, they lose their map, lose their way, and lose their patience
with each other. What emerges is a shockingly realistic home movie of increasing
terror leading to the students' mysterious demise.
In a master stroke, Myrick and Sánchez hired three actors to basically
play themselves. In fact, in the film they are not so much acting as living
using their real names, and simply capturing on film and videotape
the unsettling situation in which they found themselves. Sacrificing production
quality for realism, Myrick and Sánchez cut the three actors loose
in the forest (in Seneca Creek State Park, Md.) for 6 days and never contacted
them directly during that time. Each day, the campers would be instructed
to hike to a spot where sealed messages were left for them, giving minimal
hints as to what to expect or which way to go that day. Every night the
crew would find different ways to "play with their heads," but
they never knew what to expect, and what we get is pure realism their
raw, unrehearsed reactions to the eerie sights and sounds they experienced.
Cutting back and forth between the video and 16mm film shot by the actors,
The Blair Witch Project conveys exactly what the rumors say it is
the rough footage taken by three lost students who finally disappeared.
Myrick and Sánchez created something that will be remembered not
so much for its story or professional quality, but for its novel approach
and the impact that resulted. Though there is no music, no script, and no
special effects, this is the most gripping horror film I have ever seen.
In addition to the genius of Myrick and Sánchez, the film's effectiveness
owes great debt to the performances of the actors, especially Heather Donahue.
The tone, which grows gradually from light-hearted cynicism to full-blown
terror, is dependent completely on the ability of these three actors not
to break character while the cameras were running. Donahue's tearful final
scene, shot after a week in the woods, is some of the most real acting I
have ever seen.
The Blair Witch Project, with its minimal budget and incredibly clever marketing strategy, creates true horror by sticking to the adage "less is more." While The Haunting tries to scare us by showing huge monsters and digital effects, The Blair Witch Project really does scare us by not showing anything. *****
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