Fig. 1. The Blair Witch Project poster.
Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a draining experience that shows the audience just enough to have a scary impact. The success of the film is that it feels mostly authentic and has very little scripted dialogue, this makes the film overall feel as if you are watching real life people, actually trying to document these strange things that are happening. It also makes you feel rather uncomfortable as the sound design is very harsh and unnerving, it feels as if it is possible to get a similar uncomfortable and frightened feel from just listening to the film. All of these points make The Blair Witch Project an interesting experience, on one hand it is a brilliant example of an impactful film being made on a small budget, on the other it is a mentally draining film that has the potential to slowly wear down the viewer.
Fig. 2. The crew still.
It is easy to get pulled in by this film as the characters feel authentic, their lines are mostly improvised and that creates a realistic feeling that overall makes you feel more immersed in the events that are taking place. The film is much like a spider web, in the sense that if you get caught in it and you believe that the events are real, then you become stuck waiting to be consumed by your fears. The actors did a brilliant job at selling the film as real life events, the use of ‘real’ footage helps convince the audience and the reactions from the actors feel genuine. As Travers points out in his review ‘they hired three unknown actors who were skilled at improvisation. That's because the actors were sent into the Maryland woods with only the barest bones of a story and asked to make up the dialogue as they went along.’ (Travers, 2012). Travers points out the choice in actors reflects the way in which the story is shown. By using three actors that were skilled at improvisation and sending them off into the woods, allowing them to become tired and hungry, created believable and powerful scenes that include arguments and the breaking down of a group of friends due to high levels of stress. The screams and shouts that are exchanged by the actors are piercing, the sound stabs at your eardrums, making you feel uncomfortable. By the end of the film, the constant arguments have worn you as a viewer down, the use of handheld cameras almost makes you feel as if you are part of the intense arguments.
Fig. 3. Leaving clues still.
The film overall doesn’t give you much information, but it gives you just the right amount to be terrifying. Instead of the usual act three big reveal (in which you would be shown the monster), we are left with our imagination having to do the work for us. This becomes really effective if you have bought into the fake reality the film creates, as you may never feel the want to go camping in a forest anytime soon. As Rose points out in his review ‘We never get quite enough information to figure out what's happening, but – thanks to the scriptstructure worked out by Myrick and Sanchez – we always get enough to make us dread what's coming next.’ (Rose, 2013). Rose suggests that the directors cleverly constructed script, reveals just enough for us to fear what might happen next. The suspense is built from the very start, as the film starts by stating that three young students went into a wood to film a documentary and never came out. It is very reminiscent of Hitchcock’s method of building suspense by showing the metaphorical bomb, from the very start you have enough information to know that their trip into the woods is going to end badly. Myrick and Sanchez build upon this from shot to shot, leaving clues for the characters and viewers that they are slowly being hunted, much like Hitchcock they make us wait, watching and listening as the events get worse and worse.
The film becomes its most intense and draining in act two, when the characters get lost in the forest. These scenes are all very similar, they involve the characters wandering around the woods, arguing with each other and things becoming haunting during the night. This act feels like it lasts for an eternity, which begins to create the draining effect on the audience. As Tatara states in his review ‘The level of repetition when the students lose their way is disconcerting for a while, just as the directors intended it to be. But any semblance of drive is soon dumped in favor of a meandering "realism" that's normally cut out of other films, for very good reasons.’ (Tatara, 2014). Tatara points out that the repetition is effective to begin with but slowly starts to make the film drag and lose the interest of viewers. However it is possible that by using repetition and causing the scenes to feel long as if you are actually experiencing them could create a powerful immersive effect that could grip you and convince you that it is in fact reality that you are witnesses. The Hitchcock trait of making you wait is truly multiplied in this film and it appears that it has a similar effect, creating suspense and making you feel worn out by the constant onslaught of events that are slowly played out until the final scene.
It is easy to see why this film grew such a cult following, it is a delightful example of a film being created on a low budget that is still very impactful and immersive, The Blair Witch Project began to change the shape of cinema, allowing more creative methods of storytelling to grace the screens. The overall suspense is great and strong throughout, allowing the audience to become distressed by the events that unfold. If you are easily lead then without a doubt the film will consume your mind and prey on a childlike fear of the dark, making you listen and watch in fear until the very last second.
Myrick, D & Sanchez, E. (1999). Figure 1. The Blair Witch Project poster. http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/blair_witch_project_ver3.jpg (Accessed on 24/03/2015)
Myrick, D & Sanchez, E. (1999). Figure 2. The crew still. https://thebestpictureproject.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/theblairwitchproject3.jpg (Accessed on 24/03/2015)
Myrick, D & Sanchez, E. (1999). Figure 3. Leaving clues still. http://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/assets/4868258/blairwitch.png (Accessed on 24/03/2015)
Rose, L. (2013). washingtonpost.com. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/blairwitchprojectrose.htm (Accessed on 24/03/2015)
Tatara, P. (2014). edition.cnn.com. http://edition.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9907/22/review.blairwitch/ (Accessed on 24/03/2015)
Travers, P. (2012). rollingstone.com. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/the-blair-witch-project-19990730 (Accessed on 24/03/2015)