Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This landmark low-budget effort holds up 15 years still later as a model of atmospheric horror. Carefully constructed to give the appearance of haphazardly shot found footage, the film purports to show the film and video that was recovered after three filmmakers went missing in the woods of Maryland while making a doc about the Blair Witch legend.

Ed Sanchez and Dan Myrick combine grim naturalism (the shots of the townspeople at the beginning are unsettling in their ordinariness) with highly stylized, hand-held cinematography (shot on 16mm and video degraded to look like a cheap home movie). The dialogue is largely improvised by the three leading actors, a technique which works well enough but also comes across as a little too mannered in some instances now. It's all undeniably effective, however, and even beyond the supernatural stuff, plays off of our greatest fears of getting lost in the woods.

An unprecedented commercial hit, thanks to its groundbreaking Internet marketing campaign, the film inspired a sequel (which I have not seen) and has influenced countless "found footage" horror film rip-offs to this day, and even prefigures the "mumblecore" style in its use of unpolished technique and improvised dialogue, though to its credit BLAIR WITCH uses these elements far more creatively and to greater purpose.

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