Transport yourself back twenty years and cast yourself in an auditorium draped with red velvet curtains and matching carpet where the unwanted popcorn had stuck to the floor and would crunch beneath your feet.
This is where I found myself ahead of this massively hyped movie that had allegedly had audiences throwing up in the aisles.
Was this a reaction to the events in the movie or from the hand-held cinematography that the filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez were looking to achieve in order to capture the old documentary style filming you often saw in news reports etc.? What ever it was, Myrick and Sanchez had a lightning in the bottle moment that sent the Internet ablaze while it was still in its infancy, (no other film at this stage had created such a multimedia sensation) and in the process reawakened the found footage genre.
The twenty-year-old version of myself was determined not to buy into the insanity, but as I sat as the lights went down anticipating an awakening of my own. To be scared, thrilled, and gripped in fear at the events that would flow before me. This twenty-year-old was also incredibly stubborn. I beckoned, nay, willed the filmmakers to push my senses to the limit. Yes, I was disorientated, but not nearly to the degree that I had been led to believe, and I found my excitement transported to fury at these whining Americans that were lost in the woods.
To say that I was underwhelmed was a gross understatement.
And yet, something kept niggling away at me beneath the surface.
I was aware of the impact that this little movie had had on the horror industry, an industry that I loved so much. And numerous friends of mine would often talk about the impact that it had on them over the years. Was I wrong to have scoffed at the film so readily? Was there more to this movie than just your average run-of-the-mill found-footage horror?
Films of similar ilk like Paranormal Activity, or Cloverfield would come and go and not resonate as deeply, with the exception of Jaume Balagueró’s [Rec]. It was safe to say that I wasn’t a fan of this sub-genre.
It was only upon a few years back in preparation ahead of Adam Wingard’s sequel Blair Witch that I gathered the team together for a podcast on the franchise. It was during this time that I began to appreciate the making of this movie.
As The Blair Witch Project celebrates its 20th Anniversary, I’ve come to realize that it is a cracking example of experimental horror at its finest. The techniques that Myrick and Sanchez use in both production and marketing were exemplary, and should be applauded.
Whilst some could argue that it feels like a student film in places, (which let’s face it, it was) the direction would mark a new approach in film-making moving forward and open the door for similar stylized films.
With a 32-page screenplay and a trio of as-yet undiscovered actors (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard) in their crew, (some having to double-up as camera crew) they ventured out into the wooded terrain in Maryland to carry out their vision.
The aim was to guide the actors through pre-decided marks throughout the woods, where they would improvise around the screenplay, whilst adapting to each action as it was given to them. The effect was a naturalistic piece of drama, which made the plight of our trio all the more gritty and realistic.
It essentially became a test of endurance on the three actors, as they were deprived of food and disorientated by lack of sleep.
Throw in the shock ending, which was initially asked to be reshot by Artisan Entertainment for its confusion, only to end up in the final cut. It’s a good job too, as the ending is both startling and unsettling leaving the viewer hollow inside. Any movie that can garner such a reaction from its audience will always be held highly in these writers’ eyes.
The final mark of brilliance though comes in the marketing. With so much back-story written, it became an online producer’s playing field to create and sell the ‘history’ and cement the believability further. In an age where the scope of the internets online marketing capability had yet to be explored, and the mythology behind the Blair Witch was catapulted into the mainstream, coupled with the mockumentary, Curse of the Blair Witch, and the book, The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier.
There’s plenty of good reason that The Blair Witch Project should and still be deemed a horror movie classic, and twenty years on, it is a testament to clever filmmaking, marketing, and that special lightning in bottle magic, that only comes around every so often.
- Saul Muerte