Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Film Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Fig. 1 The Blair Witch Project, (Movie Poster, 1999)

The hype surrounding the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999 was immense. With a budget of only around $25,000 the film made almost $250 million at the box office and built up a reputation way before the film was even released.

The film is shot as a documentary about the legend of a witch living in a town previously called Blair, now renamed to Burkittsville. Set in the time the film was released, three students come together to film their investigation into the story which begins with interviews with the local townsfolk. The locals tell of how, in the 1940s, seven children and a number of adults from the town had gone missing, apparently killed by the Blair Witch. The trio drive deep into the woods and begin their search for further information into whether or not the tale is real. As they journey further into the woods by foot, Heather, Josh and Mike discover strange things, such as seven piles of stones and stick figures hanging in the trees. As night falls, things start to get scarier as they hear strange sounds coming from their tent; three piles of stones are left surrounding them and they are obviously being hunted.

Fig.2 Heather filming at the Burkittsville cemetery, (Movie still, 1999)
 Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, who wrote, directed and edited the film wanted to movie to feel as real as possible and achieved this in many ways. The actors used their own names and had a minimal script to work from. The directors would make noises around the actors' tent in the middle of the night to catch them unawares and ensure they gave the most realistic performance possible. Peter Travers speak of this in his 1999 Rolling Stone review: "There was little contact with the actors, who were deprived of sleep and sometimes food rations in the name of authenticity. Still, there's no doubting the payoff. Sanchez and Myrick have made a sly virtue of limited resources and made a film that will creep you out of your skin." (Travers, 1999). This technique has been successfully used by other directors such as Stanley Kurick.
Fig.3 Josh and Mike leave the car to enter the woods, (Movie still, 1999)
Because of the way in which the film was shot, particularly in the months leading up to the release of the film, there was some talk that the story was genuine. Ariana Bacle says in the article she wrote about the film: "When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, some people thought the film was true: They thought these three kids really went into the woods and disappeared forever, leaving only their video cameras full of spooky footage behind. And though it wasn’t true, the three stars did have to get through some tough times to film the movie." (Bacle, 2014). This 'found footage' style of filming has undoubtedly influenced many other films, such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. In his review for the Guardian, Philip French explains: "The film plays on the fact that we live in a time when the gap between fiction and fact has become blurred, and not merely in docudramas." (French, 1999).
Fig.4 Stick figures hanging in the trees, (Movie still, 1999)
Although there are mixed reviews of The Blair Witch Project it is undoubtedly a film that most people would have heard about and is marked as the beginning of a new genre of films. Roger Ebert says in his review: "The movie is like a celebration of rock-bottom production values - of how it doesn't take bells and whistles to scare us." (Ebert, 1999). There has been a sequel to the film which was not as big a success and this seems to be due to the over-production and less 'real' feel. The Blair Witch Project is definitely a lesson that it does not necessarily need a huge budget to make a lot of money!
Illustration List:
Figure 1 - The Blair Witch Project (1999) [Movie Poster] At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)
Figure 2 - Heather filming at the Burkittsville cemetery (1999) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed 24.03.15) 
Figure 3 - Josh and Mike leave the car to enter the woods (1999) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)

Figure 4 - Stick figures hanging in the trees (1999) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)
Bacle, A (6th October, 2014), Entertainment Weekly article, At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)
Ebert, R (16th July, 1999), RogerEbert.com review, At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)
French, P (24th October, 1999), The Guardian review, At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)
Travers, P (30th July, 1999), Rolling Stone review, At:
(Accessed 24.03.15)

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