Woozy, blurry, sickening cinema – ah, memories (film review: The Blair Witch Project)

This week’s old-but-new-to-the-blog film review is of The Blair Witch Project. How long can I keep this recycled review thing up for? A long, long time (trust me). I haven’t watched this film since I saw it in ’99 but I assume it’s still scary – and it’s scarier still that I wrote this review almost ten years ago now (it's unchanged, too, so forgive me if it's a little rough around the edges). My, my, my, how time flies. The years, they surely run like rabbits. And on that note...

Running. Screaming. It’s dark. Blurred. Cold. Movement, there’s always movement, will the screen ever stop moving? A sense of fear, of urgency, if somebody slips out of frame for too long it’s danger zone, time to panic, oh my god we’re all going to die! Escape the forest! Run down the aisle! Don’t complain about the cheap fear or how you pissed your pants because of it, and if you didn’t, sit down and whine about it, complain about how you’ve been manipulated by the hype and proceed down corridor one to buy the Blair Witch T-shirt for a mere five bucks. What began as a cheap independent mock-documentary soon became an international success story, automatically losing part of its effectiveness as a spooky tale that aspires to feel totally genuine. No wide screen format, no special effects, not even any damn tripods to prevent the screen from jerking - a new kind of untidy but disciplined filmmaking sporting a jagged kinetic energy.

Pity it was never meant to be like this. Blair Witch directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick would no doubt be pleased with the odd $200 + million the film made by the time it hit Australian shores, but I got the sense that it was never supposed to have T-shirt sales before and after the film, that perhaps it would have felt more alive at a tiny dirty little cinema on the outskirts of nowhere, where a few stray cinema goers would watch this no-name film and feel fear, or be surprised, or dream up thoughts that perhaps this is real, it certainly looks real, because remember, it is "real," and whether or not you like to call it an industry parody or a film that tries to be really really scary, it remains a film that captures its environment with uncomfortable realism - it’s a fidgety, uncomfortable movie, perhaps more of an experience than a story, an awkward way to spend a couple of hours and a few dollars, with or without the shirt.

The other day on television I was watching Judge Judy, and if you’re familiar with the show you’ll know that after every ruling by the 'judge,' the people in which the case involved share their comments about the ruling to the camera. I was surprised when a middle aged Greek woman, a little chubby, hard to miss, spoke the closing comment of the show: "If you don’t listen to me, listen to Judge Judy!" she said and laughed. Whilst not of great comedic talent, the woman had a good sense of where she was, I thought; she knew that the surroundings around her were fraud, but she was alert, she was in on the joke, she separated herself from the countless bickering American wankers who don’t realize that all they are doing is spitting on their integrity, recently diminished.

The Blair Witch Project is a film that is ‘in on the joke,’ regardless of whether it takes every minute of its running time seriously or not. Every stage in its development has been executed with a solid knowledge of timing, industry, as well as hype and originality, unless the entire thing was a big-profit fluke, in which case it’s still good enough to warrant such sensational luck. It’s a film that has pulled all the right strings to get where it’s at, and serves as a gigantic reminder that the internet can be one heck of a marketing tool for those who know how to manipulate it. Manipulation, in the case of The Blair Witch Project, is like honey to a bee, a tame metaphor but it’ll do - we’ve been manipulated by the internet, the hype, the desire to be a little scared and intrigued, the desire to see something that is "real" and "authentic" even though the story might be fictional. They’re clever, those bastards, to make the film feel so genuine. It takes discipline to rob audiences of the "money shots" commonly associated with the horror genre: those quick "RRAAA" moments, when we might jump in surprise, but is this all the fear that cinema can generate?

The Blair Witch Project reminds us that no, it is not, but note that I didn’t find the film very scary, mainly because I’m never really scared in the cinema, as "masculine" as that sounds. I found it more unsettling than anything else, quietly eerie rather than blatantly scary. It’s about how people react to fear rather than what is scaring them. It’s more of a character study than a horror movie, meanwhile working with a supernatural theme in the background, constantly looming over the proceedings, waiting to strike or waiting for a moment of immediate danger. That moment never arrives, at least not in the typically extravagant American manner. Gosh darn it, one of the most successful films of the year has subtlety.


  1. I'm pretty sure I still own this on DVD; I really should pull it out again sometime - rocked my 15 year-old world when I saw it on the big screen (and my first shift at the cinema I spent my highschool years working at was the night before it released).

  2. the internet can be used for marketing now?? ha ha love it, that line really is the giveaway of this review's age. did the actors ever manage to shake the snotty nosed-bad angle-double chin thing and go on to anything else??

  3. SP: good question. I'm not sure they did....

    Gerard: yeeep, it rocked my world too, though it's funny that I've never felt a strong desire to see it again...I think it's a film most people really like but are quite happy seeing just the once.