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The Blair Witch Project

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project

Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams
Director: Daniel Myrick
Rated: R
RunTime: 80 Minutes
Release Date: July 1999
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: Joshua Leonard

Review by Greg King
2½ stars out of 4

If nothing else, 1999 will be remembered as the year in which the internet became a vital marketing tool for films. A case in point is The Blair Witch Project, the ultra low budget independent film that has become a runaway box office hit in the States, out grossing far more polished, expensive studio productions.

For months now we have been bombarded, via the internet, with plenty of hype surrounding the film, preparing us for how scary it is, and informing us that audiences have found the jerky hand held camera work so unsettling that many have been rushing from the cinema to be physically sick. And the web has also been used to tell the back story about the two hundred year old legend of the so-called Blair Witch, who lives in the backwoods of upstate Maryland. The site also fills in the background information concerning the three student film makers who disappeared, presumed murdered while making a film on the popular legend. Many people actually believe that this is a documentary, compiled from the recently unearthed footage shot by the three missing film makers. Tyro film makers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez effectively create an unsettling atmosphere, and they certainly play on the audiences' fears and expectations beautifully. The film is shot using a combination of hand held video and 16mm film. The hand held camera work is not as unsettling as the massive publicity campaign would have it, and indeed much of the cinematography here seems deliberately amateurish, which adds to the overall effect.

The film follows three students - Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams - as they set out to record a documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch. As the three become hopelessly lost in the woods, hysteria sets in, and they quickly turn on one another, blaming each other for their predicament. These scenes are the most effective and unsettling, as they establish a growing air of unease that is fed by paranoia and distrust. At night while they try to sleep, the three are disturbed by the night time sounds of the forest, which further unhinges them. Are they imagining things? Or has their belief in the legend of the witch made them unusually jumpy? Heather, the project's director and narrator, and the dominant force behind the three tyro film makers' journey, is also one of the most irritating and annoying characters. As her shrill voice unleashes another tirade against her two male colleagues, many within the audience would gladly feel like throttling her.

Most of the dialogue is also unscripted, giving the whole film a natural and spontaneous atmosphere, that further adds to the illusion of reality. The Blair Witch Project is easily the most cleverly marketed film of the decade (century?), but it is by no means the scariest! Only the more impressionable and susceptible younger audiences may find any thing remotely scary and disturbing about the whole thing. Rather, this is a cynical triumph of style and hype over substance. You have been warned!

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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