THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

4.5 Stars
Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 80 minutes
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This genuinely scary film is the most frightening thing I have seen since “The Silence of the Lambs.” The film opens with a paragraph of text that informs us that three film students attempting to make a documentary about the Blair Witch disappeared in 1994 and all that was found was this raw film footage. We are not told if this is real or a hoax. The story follows the group of three likable and average film students, a woman director and two male cameramen, who embark on a quest to discover the true story behind the Blair Witch. In the early 1900s, a series of unexplained savage murders took place that some of the locals feel was the result of some nasty witches. Our crew wants to find them. The film is shot documentary style alternately on video and black and white film and is told in real time as we are taken on this journey deep into the woods.
What works best about “Blair Witch” is something not likely to get a lot of attention — the acting. It is superb. The cast of complete unknowns draws us into the drama effectively by acting like “real” people instead of “movie people.” This makes the film superior to the kitschy teen horror of films like “Scream” among others. It is genuinely frightening.
The group travels into Maryland’s Black Hills and quickly get lost. Strange and suspicious things occur — they travel south all day and end up at the same spot, they find a bizarre cemetary and hear unexplained noises in the night. In fact, the film’s most horrific scenes occur at night when the screen itself is pitch black and all we hear is the terrified screams of the filmmakers as they try to brave another night. I hesitate to explain more details of the story but I will say that during the screening not one journalist got out of their seat, looked at their watch or even attempted to shift in their chair — we were all glued — it was an intense experience that left the audience on the edge of their seats.
Blair Witch will earn its place in film history beside other classic horror films like “Night of the Living Dead” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”
With all the praise being heaped onto the film, I can’t help thinking that the filmmakers blew one major opportunity. There is a single flaw in the film that begs discussion, however, to talk about it would spoil the ending. I recommend reading this only AFTER you have seen the movie. WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD: We are given a piece of foreshadowing as one of the townspeople explains earlier that the children are killed in pairs. However, this is not nearly enough. All I want to point out is that there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. I still believe that this is one of the scariest films of all time. However, I wonder if the mass public at large will understand the ending or feel cheated by it? That remains to be seen. All the enormous hype is simply going to result in big expectations and could prompt a backlash. I hope not. In any case, there is a fundamental flaw in this film and it has to do with the ending. The final shot features one of the students hunched over in the corner. Is he dead? What is he doing? The film runs out before we are ever given any definitive answers. We never actually see the supposed witches that are haunting the students. Are they killed in pairs?
Now this has type of ambiguous ending has its pluses and minuses: You could say that the filmmakers selected this ending so that the audience would question if there were any witches at all. One could draw the conclusion that the film’s real enemy are the townspeople who tried to kill the students. This leaves one with a slightly unfulfilling ending that makes you question everything you have just seen. The downside is that the film just becomes one big tension-filled affair with no jumps. Not even one glimpse of a ghost or witch is seen in the entire film. It’s like jerking off without coming and leads to an uneasy feeling of slight disappointment. I felt that the film could have used a few simple frames of the witches and one good jump. As it is, we are left with nothing but 90 minutes of pure tension with no release.
Ultimately, this does not ruin the film entirely. It is still one of the scariest films of the 90s. But one wonders how much more effective this film would have been had we actually been able to SEE the witches. Perhaps this is the film’s greatest strength — allowing your imagination to create the terror instead of a monster in a rubber mask.



Posted on July 19, 1999 in Reviews by
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