Sunday, October 11, 2009
The woods are scary, pure and simple. Most things about the woods are truly frightening: the isolation, the symmetry, the darkness. Now, add in a local legend about a witch that hides out in those woods, and suddenly this situation goes from scary to downright terrifying. The Blair Witch Project is a film that fails to fully capitalize on this promising premise.
The film follows actors Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams as they decide to take a journey into the backwoods of Burkitsville, Maryland to discover the truth about the Blair Witch legend. The movie starts off with the students interviewing people on the street and asking them about the Blair Witch. While it's pretty clear there is no concrete definition of the legend, it does seem to be recognized by most people in the town. These scenes – particularly the one with a woman named Mary Brown, who actually claims to have seen the Blair Witch – are very effective in setting up a story that has the potential to be both captivating and terrifying.
The real downfall of this film is that it just isn't scary. The documentary format is interesting enough for this 86 minute film to be somewhat entertaining throughout, but I never felt much suspense during this film. Aside from the chilling finale, I was much more terrified about the fact of being lost in the woods rather than a group of people being hunted by an unknown legend. If you ask me, I could really care less what I am being hunted or stalked by because the simple fact of not knowing how to get out of the woods is horrifying enough.
After seeing Paranormal Activity this weekend, I decided I had to give this film a watch. They are so similar in style, but in terms of executing suspense and thrills, The Blair Witch Project comes up way short. This 1999 film is one that I believe was praised for its originality more than anything else. Often times critics fall head over heels for movies that present themselves in such a distinct, original format, and although that is justifiable praise, a film also has to deliver. I would be hard pressed to find anyone that thinks this film is more frightening than Paranormal Activity.
The one thing I will praise about this film is the acting. The performances from the three leads, particularly Donahue, are presented in such a natural, effortless way to successfully convey the documentary feel. They are three normal, nice, average people that are put into an impossible situation. Donahue's apology sequence deserves to be honored the way it has, but she is also brilliant throughout the rest of the film presenting an ambitious woman that just might be too ambitious and confident for her own good.
I might not be the best person to judge this film simply because I saw it yesterday and not when it came out in 1999. A similar debate came up in my review of A Clockwork Orange. It is a tough thing to judge a film outside of its original context, but I have no choice. For its performances and originality, and the fact that it won over critics and audiences alike, this one might be worth watching, but don’t be surprised if you are simply not frightened when the film cuts to black. I wasn’t.