Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Film Review - The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Fig. 1 The Blair Witch Project Film Poster
 
Directors Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez 1999 "The Blair Witch Project" is a horror film that examines the very nature of what is frightening and it is Myrick and Sanchez that seem to understand what it is that scares us. the viewer, the most is that of the unknown. Filmed as a documentary, on video camera and 16mm black & white camera, "The Blair Witch Project" was exactly what the horror genre needed.

"The Blair Witch Project" has the viewer waiting 82 minutes for the inevitable because the film begins by informing us that In October of 1994. Three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. Nearly a year later their footage was found thus begins the start of "The Blair Witch Project". Led by Heather Donahue an aspiring director and two fellow student filmmakers Michael and Josh, they make their way to Burkittsville (formerly Blair), Maryland. In order to shoot footage for their documentary they are making about a local legend of the "Blair Witch." The legend has it that this mysterious figure has been haunting the Black Hill Forest nearby, since the 18th century and is said to responsible for a number of murders over the years.  


Fig. 2 The Blair Witch Project Film Still

After interviewing the locals and hearing their stories and tales of the legend that is the "Blair Witch". The three head in to the Black Hill Forest to gather the additional footage for their documentary. While Michael handles the sound recording, Josh shoots in 16 mm black-and-white and Heather captures much of the action off camera on High 8 colour video. None of them are experienced campers, they soon get lost when reading the map and to make matters worse, ominous signs begin appearing. With carefully arranged piles of stones positioned outside their tent in the morning; strange and disturbing sounds at night, of whispered voices and babies crying; wooden effigies hanging in the trees. With all these things happening their once enthusiasm starts to become increasingly volatile mixture of fear, blame, frustration, and panic. They start to lose their sanity and start to bicker with each other and the inevitable tensions escalate within the group. Josh and Mike are furious at Heather for refusing to turn the camera off and focusing on their dire situation. Heather and Josh are furious at Mike for apparently kicking the map into a creek. Their desperation and refusal to cooperate with each other threatens to destroy them.

Fig. 3 The Blair Witch Project Film Still
 
When they wake up Michael and Heather find that Josh has disappeared, they wait and hope for his return. That night they hear a male’s voice screaming for help in pain, they believe that it is Josh. They wake up after that nights events, to find a bunch of sticks tired up with parts of Josh's shirt outside of their tent, when Heather looks through the sticks she finds pieces of flesh wrapped inside it. In the film's harrowing finale, Michael and Heather stumble across an apparently abandoned house where they believe they can hear the screams again. Hoping to find Josh in this house, they start to search it and follow the voices through the house. It is through the lens of Heathers camcorder, we are able to see what she sees, which is just darkness and hand prints of children over the walls. Finally we see that Michael has already been attacked, then Heather lets out a chilling scream before someone or something knocks her to the floor, Ending with the camera being knocked to the floor, still filming a blank ceiling, until the tape and the film itself reaches an end.

 
Fig. 4 The Blair Witch Project Film Still

"Despite criticisms directed towards the films sometimes slow pacing and non-stop, nausea-inducing handheld camerawork, it is hard to deny
that "The Blair Witch Project" succeeds in its employment of cinema verité as a means of instilling terror in viewers." (Schneider, 2008) Myrick and Sánchez's unique production method had the actors responsible for shooting the entire film themselves, carry their own recording equipment and improvised almost all of their lines. With some of the most terrifying moment’s occurring when neither of the cameras where
functioning, and all the viewer is able to see is a black screen. Also by exploiting some of our most basic and inescapable fears—of the dark, of the unknown, of sounds where the source cannot be detected. Provides that what our imagination conjures up when it is effectively prompted is far worse than anything even the most sophisticated special effects or makeup can produce.

Fig. 5 The Blair Witch Project Film Still

In most films, camera movements are used to reveal things but with "The Blair Witch Project" it is nothing but camera movements but nothing is revealed. "The element that makes The Blair Witch Project unusually compelling is the typical manner in which it is presented. Every scene  is a point-of-view shot, shown exactly as one might expect from someone carrying around a video camera."(Berardinelli, 1999) So the transitions are often jarring and unexpected, the kind that would be a result of turning the camera off, then turning it back on moments later. With  most of the chilling sequences happening at night, making it harder for the cameras to capture anything. This happens several times throughout the film, the screen becomes black and all we rely on is the audio. The near panicked voices of the students in the foreground and the strange  noises in the far distance. Also in the Blair Witch Project, the camerawork is lacking any sense or reason as well as causing confusion, even when it's not shaky, that you can't really focus on anything. Especially in the most intense scenes, there's light flashing at you from the screen,  with little bits of pieces of the world that you can pick out. With "a medium that appeals to the senses of sight and sound the film deprives you of them. What does that leave you with then? Shaky camerawork and sound design that's only as discernable as it needs to be to let you know you should be scared even if you don't know why." (Ben, 2006)


Fig. 6 The Blair Witch Project Film Still
 
List Of Illustrations

Figure. 2 The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch Project Film Still. http://paulasreasons.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html (Accessed on  23/02/2011)
Figure. 3 The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch Project Film Still. http://www.movie-vault.com/reviews/the-blair-witch-project-bluray/ (Accessed on  23/02/2011)
Figure. 4 The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch Project Film Still. http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc/nbcs-version-of-the-blair-witch-project_b24462 (Accessed on  23/02/2011)
Figure. 5 The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch Project Film Still. http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film3/blu-ray_reviews52/blair_witch_project_blu-ray.htm (Accessed on  23/02/2011)
Figure. 6 The Blair Witch Project (1999) The Blair Witch Project Film Still. http://www.moviemobsters.com/2009/10/15/top-ten-ghost-movies/ (Accessed on  23/02/2011)

Bibliography

Schneider, Steven (2008) THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Bh-Bo/The-Blair-Witch-Project.html (Accessed on  23/02/2011)
Berardinelli, James (1999) The Blair Witch Project. http://www.reelviews.net/movies/b/blair_witch.html (Accessed on 23/02/2011)
Ben (2006) The Blair Witch Project (The Broken Promises of the Moving Camera). http://www.lucidscreening.com/2006/03/_the_broken_promises_of_the_mo.html (Accessed on 23/02/2011)

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