"The Blair Witch Project" Review
© 1999 Fontaine L.
- spoiler warning -

"The Blair Witch Project" was overhyped. And like most overhyped films, it was a major disappointment for me. It was praised as the scariest movie to be made since "The Shining" or "Halloween" or whatever, yadda yadda yadda, but in the end it was just a justifiably glorified experiment in independent film making. Creative? Yes. Well-acted? Yes. Laudable? That too. But scary? No. Not in the way it promised to be. It might be more appropriate for viewing at a quiet, private gathering in your home, rather than with a bunch of rowdy movie-goers who are just waiting to be scared.

I have to admit, the first five minutes really hooked me, because this was the first time we've actually seen movie actors look really crappy (i.e., realistic) on screen. No, I'm joking, but the point is we don't usually see character exposition like this, from the third person narrative to the first person, from hand-held video camera (documentary of the film makers themselves) to the actual black-and-white documentary of "The Blair Witch." It was like watching a family video on screen, it was an unprecedented blurring of the line between reality and fiction. Even the taglines for the film were cagey: they left people wondering whether this film that they were going to see was a real documentary, a fake one, a film containing documentary footage, or a documentary containing film footage. Yes, you would be as confused as I were, unless you're one of those people who read up everything you could on this film and was prepared, sort of. Not even "The Real World" or "Cops" achieved this kind of reality, which makes it all the more amazing because "Blair" is actually fictitious. I must marvel at the lengths the film makers had to have gone to to accomplish this feat . . . but did we really need to see an hour and a half of it before getting to the point? We knew these people were going to die, we knew that this time, the good guys weren't going to survive. The suspense just didn't work anymore when everyone was waiting to see how these characters would die.

"Blair" tried to make the supposed witch scary by having her described by commonfolk, by I think this was the witch's undoing. These people were too matter-of-fact; they spoke of the legends as if they were like any other small town stories. A hairy old woman with a shawl? Whatever. And why did she kill? That was never explained either. The pile of rocks, the man-shaped twigs, the goo on Josh's "stuff." None of these were explained. If there were any scary images being conjured up in my head, they were pretty much diffused by the frequent switches between daylight and night time and the non-stop bickering between the characters, yeah, it's hilarious, and definitely much better than seeing people screaming their heads off and spouting off stupid lines, but it ruins the mood. The passionate will cry that we are all spoiled by special effects, that we need artificiality and contrivance to scare us. At this point I'm afraid that I must concede their statements to be at least partially true. Who wants reality when we can experience it first-hand?

It's a pity, really. If only the rest of the film were more like the last five or ten minutes: the desperate, haunting, and truly unnerving end to our three (or the two left) intrepid documentators. To me, that was the film's saving grace. If not for the ending (which gave me major chills when later that night I had to be alone in a big house: I kept imagining shadowy figures facing the corners of the walls), I would've walked off with a far worse impression of "Blair." I'm fond of it, and I admire it, but I wish it had lived up to expectations. The truth is I now see this film as an aborted genius, a glimpse at what might have been a true milestone in the horror genre.

"Let's make some movies."

Rating: B- (First viewing, 8/25/99)