It’s been way too long since I wrote a good horror review and in the spirit of the Halloween season, I thought I’d write about one of my favourites, The Blair Witch Project. (This post does contain spoilers so if you don’t want to know about the films, then don’t read – then go watch them and come back!)
In 2017 it’s way too easy to take this film for granted, so I thought I’d school those of you who were too young to appreciate the rise of this film, at the time.
Ahead of its release in October 1999, a website appeared. This in the day when very few families even had a computer, let alone the internet, made for an exciting discovery. The website (which you can still visit today, albeit in a much pared down form) promoted a documentary about 3 film makers whose footage was found after their disappearance in the 1990s. The site took you to another other site that looked like a Burkittsville town site but was in fact part of the original one, which had small videos of interviews with towns people (some of which featured in the film), newspaper articles (fake of course) and allsorts of tidbits to immerse you into the story. I knew the site back to front, and everything was placed in there to lead you to the conclusion that this was a REAL documentary, and the film makers really were missing.
Of course the film came out in America way ahead of the UK, and reports of people having to leave the theatre part way through because of the found-footage style recording making them seasick, spread across the country.
I was sold! Finally seeing this at the cinema was a darn creepy experience but I was so impressed by the film style, of which hadn’t been seen in mainstream cinema before, and was so different from anything else I’d experienced.
The movie contains no score or sound effects. The actors had a basic storyline to follow, but their reactions to the scares they faced were, for the most part, genuine. Myrick and Sanchez, who made the film (and also The Blair Witch Project: Book of Shadows which we won’t mention again, and was more like a Marilyn Manson music video than an actual film) set up speakers in the woods and didn’t tell the actors. When they heard snapping branches, running or children playing around them, their reactions were real. Piles of rocks and twig things in the trees – they had no idea to expect them. They could only assume the sounds were part of the film making process, but in that environment, in the woods in the dark and in a tent – you can imagine how real it all felt. Even when one of the film makers went missing, the others had no clue that was going to happen.
The actual film’s a corker, so if you haven’t seen it and you’re a fan of an indie film, and a found footage one at that, I’d say give it a crack. Then don’t watch the sequel.
Now that’s done, you can move onto the 2016 Blair Witch.
I was skeptical about this ‘sequel’. As such a fan of the original, I really didn’t want a repeat of Book of Shadows, but I was pleasantly surprised.
This film’s story starts with a guy who turns out to be the brother of Heather, the original film maker from the first film, who went missing. He receives tapes of the house she went missing in and is convinced he sees her reflection in a mirror. So sets up a team to go into the woods, find the house and see if she’s there. Sounds legit.
I won’t go into any more of the storyline, but I will discuss how this movie uplifts the first one. Firstly, obviously there have been changes in technology since the first movie, and changes in found footage style. There is use of a drone camera, head-worn cameras, GPS equipment. There’s an element of sound effects used, where there was none in the first, and you do actually see menacing ‘things’ in this film, where in the first it was mostly left to your imagination.
But at the bare bones of this, the 2016 Blair Witch is still raw, still about the relationship between the people and the woods, and still feeds on the fear of the viewer as well as the actors in it.
There are a few hard to watch parts in this, flashes of the original film and a supernatural element that wasn’t in the first. There’s also a suggestion of time shifting. But all of these just bring the story up to date. You can’t continue a story 20 years later and not expect some changes to be made.
All in all, these two films are great companions. They’re scary, play with your mind a bit and leave you adequately unnerved. And I wouldn’t want anything less.