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The Blair Witch Project: Feelgood Movie of the Year?

by Tjames Madison

1999-07-19 12:07:08

Goddamn it all! Those bastards stole my BRAIN! I don't know if I'll even be able to finish this review! FUCKERS!

This is a goddamn scary movie. Not scary in a "watch out, that guy's got a knife" scary way, but frightening in a deeply personal, utterly enfolding manner. This is primal fear up on the screen and wafting out through the audience, a sheet-clutching nightmare of a movie that will transport you back to every irrational, paranoid thought you ever had in the dark and leave you, as a gift, with a few new absurdly surreal and bizarre images burned into your brainpan by the end of the thing.

Dig: I haven't been scared by ANY movie in years. That slasher stuff leaves me cold, irritated by the insipid dialogue and retarded plot development and hokifying "creepy" music that precedes and announces the "scary" parts. Freddy Krueger is a comedian, Ernest Goes to Hell on a mescaline trip with claws, and those "Scream" flicks mostly make me think about how much better this stuff was done in other, older movies, including most of the "Hardy Boys Mysteries" starring Shaun Cassidy from the 1970s. That said, "Blair Witch" scared the bejesus out of me.

You probably know the deal by now, as the producers of "The Blair Witch Project" have done an amazing job getting the word out on this film over the Internet: three college kids go off to a little town in Maryland to film a documentary on a local legend, the "Blair Witch" of the title, a myth that locals have used for decades to scare their children with, and the three students, after interviewing a few locals, set off to the woods to check out the Haunts of the Witch.

Here comes the hook: a bunch of bad luck befalls them, and a bunch of downright creepy stuff starts to occur to the three filmmakers. Weird noises wake them up in the night, and they begin to stumble across various signs and portents of ill omen as they trek in endless, hopelessly lost circles trying to get back to their car. And then all hell breaks loose.

We know they all die going in, and it doesn't spoil the movie at all to know this; in fact, it says so right in the advertising, right at the beginning of the film before the title even appears: three filmmakers went into the woods, none came back; we found their film a year later in a duffel bag in the middle of the woods and edited it, and now you're watching it. The hoax element that seems to upset some people after viewing this film is that none of it is real, although co-directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick and the movie's producers have kept an extremely straight face through all the months of building hype over "Blair Witch," leading some people to believe this is an actual documentary (all the film is shot on either 16mm or 8mm handheld cameras by the principal actors.) It's not. The actors are all alive and well. There is no Blair Witch. But in presenting a completely plausible story, by utilizing actors who perform naturalistically and comfortably (and share their real names with those of their characters,) and by letting the grim, often grainy, always jerky film footage shot by the "student filmmakers" speak for itself, it's easy to see why so many people have gone home thinking they just witnessed something akin to a snuff film. It's that real. And it's just a story, a made-up thing. It's a wonderful creation, tangible and real enough that even a viewer hip to the fakeness of the enterprise going in can easily fool him or herself into believing it actually happened.

And that is the amazing, gripping thing about "Blair Witch"; you want to believe, even as you deny it with your mind. The "cinematography" is so deeply personal that the viewer is sucked into the adventure, just another student filmmaker out for a weekend lark when the terror starts to creep in.

The first half of the film is all set-up, absolutely necessary but pedestrian. The second half is a vise grip on the heart. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen even for a second. I saw things I couldn't believe I was seeing, things I didn't WANT to see, but I couldn't help it. I had to look, because THEY were filming. I won't mention specifics, because it's the little things that make the movie so wrenching, the feeling of sadness and gloom and ultimate failure that hangs over the proceedings like the heavy, ashen foliage of Maryland's Black Hills Forest. And when you get to the end, the very last scene, you're sucked back into the fears of the child you used to be, some fears you thought you'd packed away and left behind.

So this is the hype and this is how it's featured: "Scariest Movie of All Time." Is it? Probably not. But it's fear done the way fear should be done, emotions and imagery and clutter in the backwoods of the mind, and the special effects and the gore are shown politely to the closet and left there, where they belong. You should see this movie, if only to remember what it's like to be scared of something that, rationally, you should not be afraid of. Scared witless. Go see "The Blair Witch Project" today. Bring a friend.

You're gonna have an experience.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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I want to kill bugs, sir!

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