The Blair Witch Project
Dir. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez (1999)
Three filmmakers take to the woods to investigate a local legend in Burkittsville, Maryland.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Everybody knows the story of The Blair Witch Project, the Little Found Footage Indie Film That Could, earning $10,931 for ever $1 spent on the budget. Even though it wasn’t the first of its kind, it’s the film that put found footage horror on the map, initiating a craze that has produced some incredible movies in the two decades since. It revolutionized an entire decade of horror, with hundreds of films made in the years following that desperately tried to recapture the success of this film, with very few notable successes. Interestingly enough, one of these successes came from producer Jason Blum, who passed on The Blair Witch Project when he was at Miramax and ended up producing Paranormal Activity to make up for it with his new company Blumhouse. The Blair Witch Project terrified audiences, and its viral marketing campaign that convinced most of the country that it was real is legendary. However, even 23 years later and with full knowledge that everything in the film was completely fake, The Blair Witch Project is a really scary movie.
Actors Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard are fantastic in the movie, but much more credit, in my opinion, belongs to the directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. While what happens on screen was largely improvised by the actors, the decision by the directors to keep them in the dark about so much of the project was the largest reason why everything in the film appeared so real. For instance, the trio of faux filmmakers weren’t even aware that the Blair Witch legend was made up by the writers, thinking that they were making a fictional movie about a real local legend. They were given decreasing rations of food, increasing the tension between the actors and their real life relationships with each other. They were not told about things that were done to terrorize them, the directors even making them sign a waiver saying they were allowed to mess with them during production. The clever way that the locals, who were almost all planted actors, tell the legend in a way that the group would experience it within the film is amazing, a truly ingenious method of capturing real fear and enthralling viewers worldwide.
All of that doesn’t even touch on exactly how popular this film was: I read a Reddit thread recently where people talked about how no one actually thought this movie was real and that it was all just a big marketing gimmick that people played along with. Well, I’m here to tell you that I was around in 1999, and that’s total bullshit. Most of the people I know, and most of the people I’ve talked to who are honest about their feelings surrounding this film fully admit they were terrified, thinking this was actual footage of student filmmakers who had been killed in the woods, their footage found and delivered to American audiences via the big screen. It wasn’t until the trio showed up at the MTV Movie Awards that people realized the wool had been pulled over their eyes and that this was actually a movie. To diminish how incredible this feat actually was is to not give credit where credit is due: the marketing behind The Blair Witch Project was the best in cinematic history, bar none. There isn’t another movie in history that experienced the same level of guerilla marketing success, nor was there a film that seemed quite as real as this one did when it was released. Looking back, it all seems that we were gullible idiots, but if you suspend your disbelief a bit and go back and watch the movie in 2022, this is just about as real as it is possible for a movie to look.
A brilliant addition to any movie marathon and quite possibly the best found footage movie ever made, The Blair Witch Project is brilliant, realistic, and downright terrifying. It’s spawned a sequel and a remake, neither of which were particularly great (though I will die on the hill that Book of Shadows is a pretty nifty movie), and it even inspired thousands of people to travel to fucking Maryland of all places. Every horror movie since has sought to achieve the success that this movie did, and this is one that deserves at least a yearly rewatch to appreciate exactly how much of a genius everyone involved with this film was. Fantastic film, terrifyingly realistic, and one of my personal favorite.
Who this movie is for: Found footage fans; Witch enthusiasts; Jason Blum, to see what he missed
Bottom line: Are you kidding? The Blair Witch Project is, for my money, one of the scariest horror movies ever made, largely because of its insanely brilliant viral marketing. It’s scary, innovative, and an overall outstanding horror movie, and it deserves every bit of the recognition it has received. If you haven’t seen it, what the fuck are you even doing here? Add this to your Halloween schedule immediately, and give it another watch (because I’m sure you’ve already seen it a hundred times.) On a side note, if you haven’t ever checked out some of the amazing fan theories around this film, you owe it to yourself to give them a read. They turn what is already an incredible experience into one that rewards multiple rewatches of the source material.