Sunday, July 3, 2011

150 Days of Halloween: The Blair Witch Project

Still not sleeping, and still behind! Tonight is just The Blair Witch Project and with any luck, tomorrow I will get two out of the way and be back on schedule. I am having trouble focusing, so this will have to be short.

Thankfully almost everyone knows about The Blair Witch Project, with nearly everyone having seen it at least once. Its a very love or hate movie, but its also an important movie in cinema, and Horror cinema in particular, history. It brought hand held back into popular use, it created a found footage craze in movies, and it pioneered viral marketing for movies. In many ways, it influenced horror is a number of good and bad ways.

The movie that changed marketing.
First the good. Love it or hate it, but a first person perspective is effective when it comes to fear. When a movie has clean, deliberate cuts you can relax some because it creates a pattern of setups and reveals. When the camera is basically the eyes of a character, you never know when it will swing around to reveal something terrible, you can't relax. However, it also creates motion sickness in some, and can becomes irritating very quickly. Many stories don't benefit from a the hand held camera aesthetic, Cloverfield for instance was infamous for making audiences sick. [REC] used this style to great effect, and in many ways even better thanks to the confined environment of the film.

Found footage is another tool that really took off with this one, the idea that it was all true and that we are watching these final moments of three peoples lives has a sick fascination to it. It crops up commonly still, with Paranormal Activity coming to mind, and the soon to be released Apollo 18. It gives the whole experience an air of authenticity. You watch Jason hack teens to bits and you might fear the woods. You watch footage that looks like kids being hunted and killed by a witch in the woods, and that will stick with you. However, seeing this used too often makes it into a gimmick for most people, eliciting groans and annoyed sighs over false claims of true stories. It makes the world seem incredible for an instant, and then disappointment sets in that you were lied to.

The last and most influential thing this movie did, by and far, was using the internet as a viral marketing tool. Leaving breadcrumbs and fake missing persons reports, an entire world was created and put online. Fact and fiction were blurred and people just didn't know what was reliably true anymore. It generated impossible levels of interest in the movie, and as a result the movie generated an equally impossible amount of many. Studios took notice of a movie shot with less then some people spend on a new car that was now churning out millions of dollars. Now countless movies do this every day, they build hype trains and fashion alternate reality games in attempts to entice large audiences. If it weren't for Snakes on a Plane tanking in box office, we may have drowned in it all. Now its a bit less overwhelming.
I bet you can't NOT hate her by the midway point.
As for the movie itself, it did what it wanted to do, and it did it well. Love or hate it, but you can't deny the ever off camera threat mixed with creepy sounds and dark, out of focus footage is impressive at tension building. You never feel at ease, waiting for something to finally enter frame and disperse that mounting dread. It never comes. The group fractures and fights because of it, and that's the tiny release you get, shouting and crying, then night comes again and it just keeps mounting. Its very successful in that regard.

The ending is also clever in many ways. Everyone involved knows its a trap, you and the characters, but desperation just overwhelms them and they have nothing left to do but enter it and blindly hope. The infamous confession scene, of the girl crying into the camera for forgiveness, sets this up wonderfully. You see the defeat presented bare before you as she cries for whoever finds the footage to not judge her too harshly for dooming herself and the others to die in the woods. You know she is keeping something a secret from her companion, and you know she does it because they are doomed, and she simply wants to spare him the knowledge.

The ending also draws nice parallels to a legend told in the opening of the film, making an image of a man standing in a corner go from seeming silly to being the single most ominous moment in the movie. It really is well done. Love it or hate it for what its done to movies, you can't deny they made gold out of rocks with this one. Personally I feel the movie doesn't hold up to repeat viewing, which is a shame. Once you know the nature of it, all power drains from the experience. I haven't seen it since it was in theaters, and even then it still didn't have the same kick it did the first time.

At this point I would have left the creepy house.
If you have yet to see it, well, you should. You might hate the whole thing, but its worth seeing once, as a piece of memorable history of horror at least. Best case scenario, you get the full experience of dread and ceaseless tension. At worst, you are bored for a little more then an hour and go on to make fun of the drippy nose in the confession scene.

So, with any luck, tomorrow will be The Fly and The Strangers. Wish me luck, or at least a good nights sleep. Check out The 150 Days of Halloween for previous reviews and future movie dates.


  1. Awesome post, thanks guy!
    Have a nice day.

  2. You know, I sometimes think I'm the only person who liked Blair Witch. I thought it was a great idea and with a solid execution. I respect that they masked the mythology for it too.

  3. @Braum, that's weird because everyone I know loved this movie when it came out and I thought I was the only one who thought it was extremely boring.

  4. Finally! Sorry, I've been having in mind to mention to you a German zombie movie. It's short (~1hr) but I thought it was enjoyable. Mostly I wanted to strangle the whiny, narcissistic protagonist. But some of the supporting characters were quite nifty.
    Anyway, get some sleep and -eventually- check out:
    "Rammbock: Berlin Undead"
    I am about to watch La Horde (French zombie movie).

  5. I loved the movie when it came out. but I was 14 or so at that time...

  6. I know the film is old and seems kinda tacky, but when I watched it, it scared the shit out of me. Sure I was young, but the way the director made it so eerie was masterfully done.

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  7. I thought this movie was sorta scary. It wasn't high budget at all, but the actors really knew how to portray fear and desperation.