FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 14, 2006

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

Well, now, I reckon that mention of The Blair Witch Project oughta get tongues a-waggin'! Folks seem to love it or hate it- more leaning towards hate, I think, but rarely does the 1999 film not provoke some sort of reaction in people.

In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.

Those two simple sentences accompanied by a website detailing the case of the three missing students (Heather, Josh, and Mike) became nothing short of an advertising phenomenon. I remember word spreading about the upcoming release of the edited "found footage", and whether you knew it was all a hoax or not, The Blair Witch Project was a highly anticipated film. I scored tickets to a packed opening at the Angelika in New York, and man...what a night. The lobby of the theatre was filled with glass cases, inside which were things (supposedly, of course) found buried beneath the farmhouse in the woods- film reels, DAT tapes, Heather's jornal, bits of clothing...it was like a museum exhibit. The movie I'd been looking forward to seeing so much wasn't a letdown to me whatsoever. I was seriously creeped out, I was in the moment...I was scared and at the film's end I was suddenly not looking forward to my impending camping trip to the woods of Maine whatsoever. The film affected me greatly, despite the fact that I knew it was all a put-on. Imagine how my friend Jim felt, however...on the subway ride home that night, he turned to me and asked "So...was that all the actual footage they found under the house, or did they re-shoot it?" Yeah, the lucky bastard believed it the entire time. Never had there been (nor will there ever be again, I don't think) a film quite like The Blair Witch Project.

For plenty of people, they hype surrounding the film simply doesn't match up to the final product. I can understand that. Ultimately, not much happens in the movie- people get lost in the woods. They find some rocks. They see some sticks. They hear some noises. What they don't find is a witch. The end. What's so scary about that?

Undoubtedly, Blair Witch is a film that requires you to work a little. It's like audience participation, in a way- you get out of Blair Witch exactly what you put into it. If you allow yourself to be sucked in, to give in to that primordial fear of the dark and the unknown, the movie might just work for you. For me, it's quite simple. The woods are scary, infinitely more so at night when it's pitch black. Legend has it there's a monster in the woods. Now you're lost in the woods. Yeah, maybe I'm easy, but that's all it takes for me- the dark, the noises, the totems left behind. Given the proper context, sticks are scary, dammit. And I'm sorry, but if the idea of waking up in a tent in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night to the sounds of children screaming doesn't terrify you, then you have no soul.

All my gushing isn't to say the film is perfect- it's far from it. There are "plot holes", if you will, that you can fly a broomstick through (hi, the map incident, anyone?). But ultimately, I'm a big fat scaredy baby when it comes to things that go bump in the night- and in The Blair Witch Project, they're making noise right outside your door.

And I don't care what you say- you know the last 10 minutes of this movie...the 10 minutes in the fucking house- rock your face off.

17 comments:

Amanda By Night said...

Bah!

See the Last Broadcast next time.

I was not impressed with this film although I did think it had a strong ending. But the characters were too idiotic (sp?) and irratating. What vexed me the most was how people would make excuses for the characters!!! When I do that for a beloved Friday the 13ths, I'm laughed out the door. OK, so it's personal, but still, my point is I couldn't really tell what was going on (the teeth scene for example) and it just felt plodding.

Strangely enough, I have enjoyed almost ever rip-off that's come along, including The St. Francisville Experiment, which is universally hated, so what the heck do I know?

Amanda By Night

m13b said...

It's silly and stupid, but I almost feel personally insulted when people say they hate this movie, I like it so much. (As opposed to when someone says they hate the original Chainsaw, where I just immediately start hating them. ;^)

When my friend and I went to go see Blair Witch for the first time, the finale totally freaked us out. We were so glad that we saw a matinee, and couldn't have been any happier to see daylight when we exited the theater.

So yeah. I love it. Haters can point that venom at the sequel. I'll meet you over there, and we can all be friends again.

However, as rather a fun twist of fate, I hated the Last Broadcast. Funny how that works, eh? :^)

cattleworks said...

I was disappointed when i finally saw this movie at the theaters, but, intellectually I was impressed with what they tried to do. Like, the moments of total darkness, etc. Trying to let the moment sink in to the imaginations of the audience, not fancy or clever camerawork, etc.
The ending did get to me, but in general the movie didn't scare me as much as the hype led me to belive it would. In my defense, i went in having adamantly avoided any reviews as possible, worrying about knowing too much. although, i did know it wasn't real.
However, having said that...
If i watched it now, and STILL didn't feel that scared watching it, if i went camping immediately afterwards, I'd be totally freaked out!
This was a totally cool concept that the filmmakers had and they really ran with the ball, through the filmmaking and the internet promotion of it.

So my response to the film is purely subjective, and less a criticism of the film. I could see people going either way on this sucker.

SikeChick said...

Put me in the "love" camp for this flick. I saw it well after all the hype had died down and knew it was all fake. I too found Heather extremely irritating, yet the movie still had me going. I don't remember ever being bored and that ending just...whoa! It had been a really long time since a movie had geniunely creeped me out (I believe it was Linda Blair's spider-crawl in the re-release of The Exorcist and that ending did it.

Coincidentally, I also hated The Last Broadcast. Feh!

Stacie Ponder said...

I do want to see The Last Broadcast. I've heard mixed reviews and I've gotta check it out.

Heather IS really, really irritating, and you know what? I know someone exactly like her. Come to think of it, being a theatre major in college puts you in touch with a lot of people just like her. Overly ambitious, unwilling to stry from the course, egomaniacal "captains" of the ship, determined not necessarily to make good movies or art or what have you, but rather to be a STAR. Nauseating. People who act or direct or make any kind of art for accolades rather than the act of making sicken me. Sicken me, I tells ya!

She's all too real and annoying, but I suppose it's Heather's hubris that adds impact to the infamous snot-dripping confessional, where she completely comes unravelled, breaks down, apologizes for being a bull-headed control freak, and realizes she's fucked.

Amanda By Night said...

I actually have a funny story about BWP lovers. This movie came out when I was working in retail with lots of film lovers and some of the cooler kids got to see it before the actual wide release date. Needless to say, they loved it and one girl in paticular, who shall remain nameless, totally got into it with me when I finally saw it... That's why the teeth scene really sticks out to me now, because she had to EXPLAIN it. I had no idea what had been unearthed at that point. Anyway, the Sixth Sense was released around that time, and it was another film I found lacking, although I liked it much better than BWP. So this nameless girl (whom I am still friends with) actually pushed me and I fell on the ground! And she's tiny too. She was MAD!

Needless to say, I don't want to go toe to toe with any BWP fan as I know the results could be fatal, but I still don't see, and probably never will, why this film would be regarded by anyone as a good film -- the marketing campaign was brilliant and I commend them, but the film as a whole just bored me.

However, I did like the companion piece that the Sci Fi Channel did about the backstory. Then the movie started to make sense, but if you need a companion piece that was made AFTER the original film, then you're in trouble (as Tootie would say).

Amanda By Night

Stacie Ponder said...

As a "film", I don't know- Blair Witch defies conventions and probably isn't a very "good" film. I think it simply taps into a fear of the dark, a fear of the unknown, and the monsters that lurk outside your door.

More than any other flick, I think the movie either allows you to get to that fearful place or it doesn't, one or the other, A or B. If it works for you, you're gonna like it. If it doesn't hit you on that gut level the first time, for whatever reason, even if it's simply due to the narrative style, it never will.

It's almost as if people react instinctually to this one.

I don't think anyone could ever be convinced to dig this movie if they don't from the start. I won't push you down over it, though, I promise.

That's really a funny story. I can't imagine getting that worked up over any movie, whether someone's opinion differs from mine or not. It's funny- but I'll totally push her down for you. Unless it's Heidi. She's 10 feet taller than I am.

Amanda By Night said...

I agree that it's an instinctual kind of film. I did a little survey with fans of the film and a good many of them grew up in more rural places and had a good feel for the 'you never know what lurks in the woods' scenerio.

As another sidebar, I recently saw the gorefest, Murder-Set-Pieces, which I really enjoyed. It was shot in Las Vegas, where I grew up, and there's this scene where this little girl is standing near an isolated gas station and the wind is blowing. Boy, how I remembered the hot winds of Vegas, it totally took me back. I wouldn't recommend the film to anyone (lots of rape) but the director captured the Vegas I remembered and it was incredible. I think the people behind BWP may have done the same thing for a lot of people.

Amanda By Night

m13b said...

That pretty much says it: You either like BWP, or you don't.

Moreover, that's probably also the reason I take it personally when someone I know tells me they don't like it, because unlike some other films, there is no way you can convince someone to like it if they don't right off the bat. ;^) I prefer to think I am more convincing than that!

(But no, I won't push anyone over either.)

Heather Santrous said...

Actually Amanda, I could be wrong about this but I am pretty sure that the companion piece aired the week of the big release for BWP. As I remember it, I watched the companion piece and couldn't wait for the movie to come out so I could watch it.

Like you, I really liked the companion piece and thought it added to the movie when I finaly did go to see it. One of my thoughts after seeing the movie was that I was glad I had watched the companion piece before seeing the movie. I don't think the movie would have made as much sense to me if I hadn't. In truth, they didn't explain the legend all that well in the movie.

Steve said...

Heather is correct. The sci-fi companion piece aired the week leading up to the Friday release. I watched it, Wednesday night I think, and saw it opening night in Raleigh, NC.

I knew the movie and marketing was all fake and hype, but the kid that grew up in PA with woods in his backyard that looked EXACTLY like those woods in NW Maryland where it was shot could totally relate. And the last scene is pure terror.

I think the reason this movie is either loved or hated is b/c so many people felt embarassed for falling for the hype and whether it was real and that the movie required you to pay attention and really act like you were there, which I felt was easy since it was an environment I had grown up in and we all have friends like them, no matter how annoying they can be at times. Just friends lost in the woods, nothing scarier.

If anything we ALL should be so thankful for what they did for the genre, by giving lowly indies a chance at box-office gold and showing that dark and non-gore horror still has a HUGE demand.

theron said...

I first saw this flick about a year after it came out. I knew about all about it and all the "pros" and "cons." I'd read the companion comic and thought that was pretty good. So, I rented the movie on Halloween and watched by myself late that night, with all the lights off...and I was genuinely affected. I have to (sheepishly) admit it did spook me out quite a bit. It did its job. But like Stacie said, you have to do the work. But, having done the work, I enjoyed it.

Missy said...

A comment regarding "the teeth scene":

Two people that didn't care much for TBWP mentioned they "couldn't really tell what was going on" during "the teeth scene".

That was one of the stand-out moments of the film, as well as an example of the main device used throughout the whole film. You are made more uneasy by not knowing what is going on. Instead of being two steps ahead of the characters ("Don't go upstairs!"), you are in the moment with them, trying to make heads or tails of things and get your bearings, and it's scary because you feel you may be attacked by no-one-knows-what before you do have your bearings. Everyone in the theater was asking "What the f IS that?!" when the teeth were unwrapped.

And the map scene really is a Doh! moment, but then it just demonstrates how you can be completely at the mercy of one of your companions doing some small inexplicable thing.

Immediately after the ending, I was looking forward to the sequel. I thought they were clever to get away with the entire movie without need for much of a budget, and the success of the first film would allow them to make a sequel focused on the house and what happened there. What a let down the sequel was! (I'm just glad director Joe Berlinger was able to pull his career out of the ditch by going back to docs.)

Zach said...

I think this is one of the worst films ever made.

Stacie Ponder said...

Well, all right then! :D

veggiemacabre said...

Zak! pshhh....

The scene when the kids were rustling the side of the tent and laughing chilled me to the core. This was a brilliant film. Loved everything about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm kinda curious as to why everyone is so down on the map scene/sequence.. it made sense to me. The map was doing them no good whatsoever, somehow it got dropped on the ground, and in a moment of anger and frustration, the guy (Mike?) kicks it into the river. I could totally see someone doing that.