It's what you don't see that's scariest…
Release date: July 16, 1999 (USA)
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Budget: 60,000 USD
Box office: 248.6 million USD
1 Hour 45 Minutes
REVIEW BY CHRISTIAN VALENTIN
Watching this was like when I watched The Exorcist for the first time, finally seeing the originator after so many imitators and influenced movies. The Blair Witch Project distinctly does not feel like so many modern found footage movies. Much like how Lake Mungo felt like an authentic documentary, Blair Witch looks and sounds like something that three amateurs filmed in the woods.
As a film, it is so deliberately unassuming, so detached from the modern expectations and style of the genre, that the opening logos and credits at the end almost feel jarring. The framing and camera angles are never trying to slickly frame reveals or make sure we see everything in cool first-person shots. The largely improvised dialogue has the kind of natural conservation flow that most others in the genre lack: the interruptions, the yelling over each other, the back-and-forth and ribbing between friends. The movie even tackles the genre's common "why would anyone keep filming this" criticism and the rationale actually makes sense, giving the perspective a tragic vibe rather than a voyeuristic one.
Blair Witch Project never tries to be anything more than a log of people breaking down as they get lost and go crazy in the woods amid increasingly creepy happenings, and that's what makes it so effective as a horror movie. It pulls that off so well, like the early interactions and set-up that succinctly establish personalities. Or the quietly creepy interviews with townsfolk who feel like people being asked questions on the street and not actors trying to ominously foreshadow stuff. Or how the dread of the movie doesn't come from jump scares or blatant horror imagery, but from watching the trio gradually realize what's happening, as they grow more desperate and frantic, as their relationships crumble. When something terrible or unsettling happens, it's the characters' growing despair that makes it scary.
A minimalist presentation that does nothing but remove every barrier standing in the way of allowing you to be scared shitless. The Blair Witch Project still stands as an effectively unsettling experience, one representative of the potential story telling power of the found-footage genre. To that, it's probably the only film that's been able to scare me silly, while showing me absolutely nothing.