"The Blair Witch Project" unintentionally became one of the most important films of the 90’s. It is an anomaly in that its importance to its genre supersedes its actual quality. This film changed the found footage genre forever, establishing an unprecedented amount of realism within and surrounding the production of the film. Let’s take a step back and explore the concept before we explore the actual film. Three actors (playing the role of student filmmakers) travel deep into the Black Hills of Maryland to create a documentary about a legendary witch. For the duration of the film, the actors were literally stranded and completely lost in the woods. Behind the scenes, they would follow a GPS to hidden film canisters that would provide clues to their next location and individual instructions to help them to develop their characters. Onscreen, a combination of improvised acting and pure terror creates an atmosphere that is absolutely surreal. The terror came from the production crew who, unbeknownst to the actors, planted creepy props throughout the woods, scared them with noises throughout the night, and deprived them of food to elicit realistic, emotional responses. The characters are never heard from again but their equipment and video footage is discovered in the woods a year later, which is what the audience is watching. "Unsettling" is an understatement. To further enhance the nonfictional narrative, one of the first internet viral marketing campaigns was employed to make potential audience members believe in the truth of this legend. This included a website that listed faux police reports and evidence to portray the documentary as truth, flyers at film festivals with contact information for anybody who had information on the missing actors, listing the three actors as “Missing, presumed dead” on IMDB, and even a historical tv special on the Blair Witch legend that was aired on the SciFi Channel.
The film’s significance cannot be overstated but the film is far from perfect. The concept leads to large portions of the film where nothing really happens, though it is all part of the buildup to the very end (which many argue is anticlimactic but I believe perfectly ties the story together). My main issue is the extreme amount of profanity. I understand that the actors are trying to portray the tension and terror of being lost in the woods, but most of it is unnecessary (134 f-words and 62 s-words in 81 minutes). It is also frustrating that during the scary sequences, there is so much shaky cam that you can’t really see what is going on. Again, this makes the story believable but causes the scene to lose its intensity. So why do we love to watch 81 minutes of film where not much happens? Because the concept is so unique and the emotions are so raw that the line between fiction and nonfiction is completely blurred. This simple film had a budget of $60,000 and went on to make over $248 million at the box office. “The Blair Witch Project” may not be most peoples’ cup of tea, but the influence of its found footage style and viral marketing campaign can still be seen in the popularity of films like “Paranormal Activity” today.
[Pictured: The iconic and most emotional moment where Heather Donahue apologizes to her family and friends amidst her terror]