31 Days of Terror: The Blair Witch Project

by Jeff on March 12, 2010 · 0 comments

in Stuff I Like

Blair Witch is a resonant film. It sticks with you after you watch it.  I’ve seen it relatively few times and as a comprehensive piece of craft I still find it to be an effective, successful film.  Like horror does when it works best, it takes the familiar and subverts it.  It follows a well-worn genre paradigm – meddling young people get murdered – but manages to be incredibly immersive instead of cliche.  The actual reason has little to do with what’s in the film as much as it does with the masterful level of control, creating a fake mythology whole cloth that supports the film and that is wholly believable within the confines of believable stories about ghosts and witches.

The main conceit at play in Blair Witch, though, is that you cannot ever get lost in America anymore because we are too modern and crowded and urban. And yet these three filmmakers do vanish.  They’re close to Baltimore, close to Washington, D.C. when they do so, and the woods where they get lost – a real geographical location – are not big enough for anyone to hopelessly get trapped in for more than a few hours before coming to a highway.  Like the fake legendry that was dished up as local lore prior to the movie’s release, that realization – that feeling that some force is fucking with these people – is a powerful trigger.

Nobody gets lost.  We have a map. All of this stuff is just fake. One by one, each of these truths gets eroded out from under the characters and out from under the audience until they have nothing left to stand on. And then you’re turned out to your cars to drive off into the night, faced with all those little fears that have turned into huge fears over the past hour and a half.  Good night and good luck.

One of the common criticisms of Blair Witch is that it’s really only good insofar as it can be shocking, which means that it is a one-time use movie for a lot of people.  I prefer to think of it as an event movie, like Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity or any William Castle movie.  Hell, Psycho.  I don’t watch it often, but I’ve seen it a few times like I said above, and while the creeping dread is gone, it holds up – mainly because the ‘performances’ are pretty legit (especially since the movie is almost entirely ad libbed and the cast is being harrassed without any firm idea of what’s going to happen).  I hate to echo Mark Millar here, but especially when it comes to genre film, a film that evokes the intended emotional response is a successful film, no matter how they go about doing so.

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