Friday, May 31, 2013

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) movie review

Blair Witch Project, The (1999) d. Myrick, Daniel/Sanchez, Eduardo (USA)

(I also invite everyone to check out our heated 2011 round table discussion over on Kitley's Krypt as part of the Cinematic Crossroads program.)

All you low-budget horror filmmakers out there take note: You can make an astonishingly original and frightening film for barely any money at all; it simply requires a fresh approach and more imagination than Karo syrup. Witness this groundbreaking and box office shattering sensation from first timers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, which takes the premise of a trio of student documentarians wandering around a forested area of Maryland and manifests a shining example of minimalist “theatre of the mind.”

Well aware that the film (which spawned the post-Millennial glut of "found footage" horror efforts) has as many detractors as fans, I come down firmly on the latter side, and will defend it until the witches come home. Say what you will about how the hype killed it, how it was a better example of innovative marketing than filmmaking, how the shaky camera induces motion sickness, how the characters are annoying, how it ripped off Cannibal Holocaust... I will simply look you in the eye and shake my head in sorrow that you weren’t able to go along for the ride, to enjoy a good campfire story well told.

Kudos go to the evocative use of sound, the authentic (mostly improvised) performances, the "found footage" motif, how so many onscreen events go unanswered, the palpable tension between the increasingly desperate characters, the chilling ending... Yes, the characters are annoying at times, but we find their behavior completely realistic. Would they keep filming under such dire circumstances? As one character mentions, “Through the camera lens, things seem somehow less real,” so yeah, they keep filming.

As far as the camerawork, with the given set of circumstances, if it were any smoother we wouldn't buy it. What can I say – I love this movie. Also worth your time is the companion faux documentary, Curse of the Blair Witch, which expands upon the legend to the point where you believe that such a legend truly existed. Funny thing is, now it does.

If I wasn’t already a huge fan, listening to the directors’ commentary and hearing how much craft when into shaping what was essentially a elaborate improvisation exercise would have definitely pushed me over the edge. So many “happy accidents,” such as Heather’s closing monologue to the camera: Intended as a straight on medium shot, the actress ended up only getting the upper left hand quadrant of her face in close-up...what has now become an iconic horror image. Brilliant.

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