Every generation has a film that redefined their perception horror. One that would stir the murky depths of your most primal fears. For some, that was The Exorcist. For others, it was Jaws. For this most recent generation, it was Paranormal Activity. As for mine, it was The Blair Witch Project. Some of you reading this article may mock me for being scared pale at this film, and to that I argue that this film wasn’t just scary by the standards of 1999 cinema. For, recently, I decided to revisit the scariest film I have ever seen. A film that has forged, at my core, an irrationally visceral fear of the woods. I was curious to see if, 12 years later, this independent docu-horror could still have me looking over my shoulder as the screen flickers in the dark of my room.
This is where I let my curiosity get the better of me. I began an in depth search through the films available on my Netflix player but my search proved fruitless, as they only offered the film via DVD, and that was not going to fly. So, being the resourceful lad I am, I began pawing through Mikey’s massive library of films in the hopes that I would locate a copy. And there it was, a VHS, just like the one that caused me to weep in fear 12 years ago. My mind was a fog with ominous thoughts. I cannot describe the feelings that rattled inside me at that moment. I felt as if I was about to reopen an experience I had successfully hidden over a decade ago. But, not heeding my own emotional warnings, I slipped the VHS into my player, grabbed a pillow, and shut off all of the lights to embark on a journey in which I uncovered a suppressed childhood experience.
I am a fan of classic horror and sci-fi cinema. I do not subscribe to the modern slasher/gore films that push the moral limits of our society. My personal taste appeals more toward the films that rely on what you, as the viewer, are not allowed to see. This gives you the ability to craft the horrors inside your own imagination, the place where your worst nightmares literally reside. Being granted access to the sadistic side of a Director’s vision isn’t scary it is simply disgusting, (i.e The Saw franchise, Hostel, The Hills have Eyes, etc). I do not need to see heinous taboos and scenes of unspeakable violence to wet myself. I need to be scared in the darkest corner of my mind. I need to feel the tension and emotions gathering inside me until I am consumed by the suspense while the character’s fears are becoming my own. When you can stir an echo within a person on an emotional level, this is when you can truly execute a powerful brand of horror. The brilliance of The Blair Witch Project lies in the fact that the film went where no other film had gone. It manifested the illusion that real lives were at stake giving the viewer an almost helplessly guilty feeling as they watched the terror unfold.
For those who still have yet to see the film I’ll provide a brief synopsis. The idea behind The Blair Witch Project is that the film you see is the “recovered footage” of 3 young filmmakers, (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams), who mysteriously disappeared without a trace. These individuals were shooting an independent documentary in the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland about the myth and lore of the murderous Blair Witch. The shots in the film shift between the 16mm black and white camera (used for final production) and shots from Heather’s handheld Sony Handycam (used to document the “behind the scenes”). Shortly after they embark into the dark of the woods, things begin to spiral out of control. They get lost, trust becomes an issue, tensions mount, starvation and dehydration set in, all while they are being mocked by an opaque evil entity. Soon they are deprived of the luxury of sleep as the nightly assaults from the “witch” escalate. Heather and Michael wake-up to find Josh missing one morning and the film becomes scarier than hell from there. The end scene has taken a lot of flack over the years, but I maintain (and even Mikey agrees) that it is one of the scariest moments in cinema history.
The Blair Witch Project is a film that has, surprisingly, stood its ground for over a decade, an accomplishment not many horror films can boast. Its raw portrayal of unfiltered emotions and drama transcend the standards of time. I cringed in horror and recoiled my eyes behind the pillow I clutched tightly as the droning pace of the film grew from a crawl to chaos. The only flaw with The Blair Witch Project is that it is not a group film. By that, I mean that viewing the film with friends or family will detract from the tension of the horror and strip the emotions down to almost a comical state. If you plan to revisit this movie, I strongly suggest that you take on the viewing solo. This will stretch your nerves in the straining moments of silence, sharpen the volume of each character’s anguished screams, allow your imagination to create the most diabolical terror possible, and leave you soaked with sweat from fear. Even after reading this some may laugh that I, age 24, can still be struck down by a piece of fiction. To that I argue that it proves the power of fantastic filmmaking. When a director’s creation is transformed into vision and does not lose a step. It proves that the terror of cinema is truly inside of each of us. We are the key to our own fears we simply need the motivation to let it consume us, if even for a moment, to realize how small we really are and how fleeting our time here is. The Blair Witch Project staggered a generation and made the woods into a larger than life horror. After hearing my testimony of past and present viewings, tell me, are you willing to face your fears?
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