Halloween Binge Guide: The Blair Witch Project

It makes sense that if I enjoy watching found footage films, I need to watch the film that sparked my interest in this medium. The Blair Witch Project perfectly takes the notion of fear and dials it up to 1000.

A wise space wizard once said:
Fear is a path to the dark side
Fear leads to anger
Anger leads to hate
Hate leads to suffering

It seems to be the throughline throughout the entire film.

The Blair Witch Project works for so many reasons. There is magic in hiring unknown actors. I guess having a budget under a million dollars helps. What I liked about the cast was how relatable they were. They felt like real people going on a hike to investigate the paranormal. It allows the audience to fully invest in these characters without having Hollywood stars distracting us from the experience. I wouldn’t mind if I recognized some of the cast. However, I would be thinking of another character they played instead of the one present.

The Blair Witch Project follows film students Heather, Mike, and Josh in 1994. They are on a quest to make a documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch. One interview with a resident reveals there was a gruesome murder of seven kids in the 1940s. Another interview with a local fisherman reveals that the woods are haunted. A woman went missing in the 1800s and returned days later telling folks about an old woman whose feet never touched the ground. The students hike to a location where five men were killed in a ritual and their bodies were nowhere to be found.

I have a bad feeling about this. Where is Rod the TSA guy from Get Out when you need him? Or the Winchesters? This is strike three of this-is-a-bad-idea-please-leave-now.

The trio camp for the night and find seven stone pillar-like structures the next day. Josh knocks one over by accident. They hear sounds later that night. I believe the life lesson here is to leave anything man-made alone in an allegedly haunted area. The trio finds three stone pillar structures made around their camp. The thing is that the three are the only ones around. I must point out how perfect the chemistry is between Heather, Mike, and Josh. They seem to get along well, but the tension and stress start to creep in. The tall tale is slowly morphing into a tall glass of realistic horror. Something wicked this way comes.

Heather can’t find her map. It turns out Mike kicked the map into a creek out of annoyance. It was probably due to the fact they couldn’t reach their car in time. Tensions rise as the trio is lost. It was bound to happen eventually. Things get more perilous after they find stick figures in trees, hear children’s noises and their campsite is somehow attacked.

I can hear my heart pounding as things get from bad to worse. Their stuff is messed with, while Josh’s stuff is covered in slime. Josh is gone and they hear his screams. Heather and Mike fear that something is pretending to be Josh to lure them out. Heather finds Josh’s remains. At least some of them. I’m just gonna leave it at that. There is an emotional moment between Heather and Mike that was profound. I believe Mike is questioning the purpose of the trip and everything and Heather screams in agony this is all that she has to live for in a sense. This is the one thing keeping her sane. That line alone can speak volumes about her backstory. Her confession is heartbreaking and you just know that despite how much we want the trio to survive, it’s not going to happen.

Heather and Mike hear Josh’s agonized cries and follow them to an abandoned house. The pair find demonic symbols and children’s bloody hand-prints on the walls. Something attacks Mike. Heather is beside herself. She finds Mike standing in a corner. She calls out to him but does not respond. Something attacks Heather and the footage ends.

The horrifying part is the last events of the film mirror the testimonial the first resident gave near the start of the journey. It is safe to say the trio is dead. I have to add that the start of the film tells the viewer of footage found in the discarded cameras of three young filmmakers who had gone missing.

Fear is a path to the dark side
Fear leads to anger
Anger leads to hate
Hate leads to suffering

It’s poetic how powerful fear can be. I am reminded of The Mist. The monsters may be scary, but human emotions taking over our better nature can be the worst nightmarish monster of all. Heather, Mike, and Josh start as friends and they start to doubt the purpose of the documentary. They turn on each other instead of sticking together. One mistake from Josh leads to a domino effect of chaos. Emotions rise as their friendship starts to fracture. Heather begins to hate herself and Mike turns on her. Josh suffers, Heather suffers and Mike suffers. Heather suffers alone before the film ends.

How It Should Have Ended Youtube Channel provides a comedic take on the ending. We did not see the monster. That would have been nice, but fear did all the work. The Witch exacted her plan to perfection. I also enjoyed Warp Zone Channel and their rendition of the classic film.

I honestly thought that Blair Witch was the first film to invent the found footage technique. That is not the case. They are the first to ignite the spark that showed Hollywood this form of filmmaking is worth showing more of. Blair Witch is the house that built Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. Once those films were mainstream, there was no going back. I’m grateful directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez took a chance with this genre as their feature film debut.

The directing duo was inspired by content on the supernatural scarier than traditional horror films. They wanted to mash up the two. The pair along with some friends formed their own production company and got to work. The pair drew inspiration from film, television, and books. My favorite when developing the mythology behind the film, the creators used many inspirations.

They shot 20 hours of footage and it had to be cut down to just under an hour and a half. I’m speechless. Someone give the editor some gold stars. When Artisan bought the distribution rights, They wanted to change the ending. The directors shot four endings but decided in favor of the original. It’s a smart move to keep the viewers on their toes.

The thing about this film that makes it one of the greatest of all time is the marketing. The actors used their actual names in the film. There were posters made for The Blair Witch Project stating that those involved may have been missing in real life. It goes even further when a viral website was made featuring content fueling that this fictional film was supposedly real. This is X Files turned on its head. The marketing team spared no expense in making sure this event might have happened. I never saw this film until 2016. It’s unreal seeing how this film came to be. It is such a clever use of clickbait, fake news, and catfishing for the 90s. I’m terrified yet so impressed. It gained so much attention that it blew viewers when they finally saw the film. Blair Witch was made for nearly half a million dollars and the box office more than rewarded the directors for their efforts tenfold.

It’s safe to say, this film had a lasting impact. I saw the 2016 film. That flick was a copy and paste of the original. I will say it was scarier and we finally see the witch. I’m sure the jury is out on how they feel about the series as a whole. The Blair Witch Project sparked many more films in this genre and officially made the found footage genre an art form legitimate in cinema. Along came books, comic books, video games, and more documentaries from this indie film. It is nice to see the same impact in Paranormal Activity as well. Oren Peli created magic like Myrick and Sanchez.

All in all, The Blair Witch Project still holds up as one of the most terrifying films to end the 20th Century. It is suspenseful and engaging from start to finish and offers a cautionary tale of fear. It also goes to show aspiring filmmakers that when you are tireless in your efforts to create art.

Life finds a way.

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