Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Blair Witch Project (1999) Film Review

Fig 1: 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) Poster
'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) is a found footage genre film that tells the story of three students and the events leading up to their disappearance. The film was captured using a handheld camera and a 16mm black and white camera and while use of handheld equipment is almost a must for this films genre, the black and white film camera gave a sense of realism as it worked with the plot but also invoked its own form of horror by depriving scenes of colour and increasing contrast between light and dark, a feature which makes it almost invaluable in the final scene's house and basement. The script and dialogue is massively improvised with the actors given only an outline of how the story would unfold, their performances under such conditions bring a sense of complete realism and evokes a primal fear with the viewer as the characters only get more and more lost and convinced of their situation as hopeless.

"The Blair Witch Project" is the scariest movie I've ever seen. Not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest or the slimiest... Just flat out the scariest." (Rose 1999)

The way in which 'The Blair Witch Project' presents its horror element is simplistic in nature with what you don't see being the scariest thing of all, this is because it use intense audience participation, making use of their imagination and personal fears to fill in the blanks of the footage. The films found footage style goes along way in bringing absolute fear to the audience with the seemingly realistic actions and emotional portrayal of its cast; its camera work exercises two radically different angles of approach with black and white documentary like shots presenting the information clearly while the handheld colour camera symbolically gives us a view from the character's perspective, with us being unable to see very much at all and completely overwhelmed at times by the events around us.
Fig 2: Graveyard documentary scene in 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999)
"The directors took their cue from producer Hale's Army training and shot the film like a military exercise." (Travers 1999) 

The way in which the films was recorded and produced was unique and made incredibly tough for the actors. As Travers highlights above, the film was 'directed' loosely with the actors receiving their directions to the next location via milk crate dead drops. This gave emotional realism as the actors blindly followed these directions, improvising their dialogue as they went, and become both physically and emotionally drained. The night time scenes are frightening and mind boggling for not just the audience, as the actor's and their characters are harassed continuously to varying degrees in the dark woods, only to be unsettled and unhinged ever so slowly through out the day with stick puppets, stone piles and the surplus of unexplained noises echoing around them. The film gains from this unique style by capturing realist emotions of the cast as their harrowing journey slowly comes to a close; Heather Donahue, the female lead, can be noted for really pulling on the audience's heart strings as she becomes more and more unhinged and completely desperate to escape the situation, something that can be said for all three of the students however she evokes their sympathy the most through her heart wrenching video as she claims responsiblity for the events and begins to carry the heavy guilt associated with this. Her words "I'm scared to close my eyes and I'm scared to open them" becomes a singularly memorable line as it encapsulates the entire experience's emotional conclusion as it leaves each member of the audience in a similar state of terror, dread and paranoia.

Fig 3: Donahue's crying confession in 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999)
The overarching plot of this psychological horror montage is incredibly insubstantial and merely acts as a guided tour of its constructed lore.

"While it has its scary moments, and while its central conceit is refreshingly imaginative, there's ultimately not much there there." (Brunette)

The films plot is extremely elusive throughout the entire feature, with screen time dominated by the character's improvised dialogue and the tormenting actions of the directors, the goal of the three students soon becomes bogged down under all of its excess weight. The antagonist in the film is not entirely clear, it is hinted to be the witches through the strange dolls, rock piles and then the final scene in the old basement, but it is never clearly defined. This mystery of course lends itself to making the feature all the more frightening as the invisible and unknown aggressor is the scariest of all, but the reason for the torturous events that hound the three students is forgotten, tossed aside or blatantly never explained properly. It is assumed by the plot that the aggressor doesn't require a reason and merely functions on bestial instinct, although this can be made the case and work incredibly well. There are key points throughout the film, however, that have been carefully thought out, with the tormented nights engineered to such a degree that it feels like a sinister game orchestrated around the students. The invisible aggressor however soon only serves as a generic evil which must be unconditionally feared, leaving the audience to see it as twisted two dimensional entertainment instead of the carefully plotted psychological experiment it is.

List of Illustrations

Fig 1: 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) poster [Poster] At: http://www.nerdspan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/the-blair-witch-project-poster.jpg

Fig 2: Graveyard documentary scene in 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick [Film Still] America: Haxan Films. At: http://www.mattfind.com/12345673215-3-2-3_img/movie/t/k/q/the_blair_witch_project_1999_720x540_477142.jpg

Fig 3: Donahue's crying confession in 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick [Film Still] America: Haxan Films. At: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2011/12/21/article-0-0F3F9DD700000578-685_468x286.jpg


Brunette, Peter. At: http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-blair-witch-project [Online Review] (Accessed 18/02/2014)

Lloyd, Rose (1999) At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/blairwitchprojectrose.htm [Online Review] (Accessed 18/02/2014)

Travers Peter (1999) At: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/the-blair-witch-project-19990730 [Online Review] (Accessed 18/02/2014)


  1. A well-considered review Kyle, well done :)

    Just a couple of points... what do you mean by 'milk crate dead drops'? Always assume your reader knows nothing, and make sure that you explain any technical phrases etc.
    Also, you need to reference the little quote that you have taken from the film, made by the character Heather... I am not 100% sure how this would look, so I am checking it out for you - watch this space!

  2. Hi again!
    Ok, so I have checked with Phil... it seems that as long as you have referenced the film in your bibliography, there is no need to actually reference the quote by the character too. To reference the film, you need the following info -

    Year of Production in round brackets:
    Directed by:
    Medium in square brackets: [for example, DVD]
    Place of Production:
    Studio or production company

    The example from the guide looks like this - (the name of the film should be in italics)

    The Impressionists with Tim Marlow. (1998) Directed by Phil Grabsky & Ali Ray [DVD] Brighton: Seventh Art Productions.