The Blair Witch Project: An Anniversary Viewing from One of the Best Years of Film

It is noted by many film critics that 1999 was one of the best years in film. Indeed, this statement is true having previously looked back on the year highlights on At The Movies with anniversary reviews of The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Beautyand soon a November review of Eyes Wide Shut. However, it seems that I never got around to viewing The Blair Witch Project, as it is considered a landmark in the horror scene by introducing the “found footage” subgenre. It’s a subgenre that the horror market capitalized on the coming decades with series’ like the Paranormal Activities. On the 20th anniversary of this landmark cult status of a film I decided on a viewing late at night on the eve before Halloween, when everyone had gone to sleep and the were lights shut. The following is the true story of the experience that followed.

The Blair Witch Project is a fictionalized tale about three student filmmakers, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, that go out for a hike in the forest of Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland, in order to document the urban legend known as The Blair Witch; they would later disappear. They first set out to interview the locals about the urban legend of The Blair Witch, which will be the setup for the paranormal encounters in the forest later on. With the lore in place the three set out on their hike in the fall of 1994...

Once entering the forest it is clear that they are not welcomed, and there are various ways that the forest tells the students this. Additionally, the deeper they descend into the forest, the film focuses on the power relations between the students as they become lost. Heather continues shooting the footage of the ominous stick-figure creations around their camp, despite the other two protesting that they are no longer welcome. This all culminates with them getting lost and accepting the fact that the project has taken another turn. Not to spoil the ending for some that have not seen it, but it includes a confession from Heather apologizing for everything that has happened. 

Even though The Blair Witch Project did not provide the scare that I wanted, the film does work well on two levels. The first would be the aesthetical nature of the film being shot with handheld cameras and on Super 8, giving that coveted grainy black and white aesthetic. One of the primal scenes where this works is the black and white grainy gothic aesthetic while they are filming near a cemetery as Heather narrates about the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, and The Blair Witch. Furthermore, the mythology of the film is well executed as a found footage that the students left behind, so much that it played into the real-life marketing tactic whereby people actually thought these people were still missing. Heather, Michael and Joshua play off of each other well leading to most of the tension in the film that is built up, which is a showcase in human nature, which is at times scary and erratic. In the end, The Blair Witch Project can be seen 20 years later as a landmark to the horror subgenre of the “found footage” aesthetic that would later come to dominate the horror landscape years later with aforementioned box office smashes like the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Remi is the host of At The Movies which features everything new and noteworthy in the world of cinema. The show goes live every Tuesday at 8:00 AM.