The Blair Witch Project is a 1999 found footage movie. To put it another way, The Blair Witch Project is THE 1999 found footage movie. This was a genre defining film that immediately catapulted itself both to astronomical box office success, and to about a billion pop-culture parodies. With the next entry in the series coming out in September of 2016, you should hop on this one and make sure you see it so you can join in on the conversation. If you can't remember if you've seen it (presumably due to suppressed memories about flannel, Nickelback, and other regrettable 90s trends), take a gander at the trailer below and read our SPOILER HEAVY review after the break.
Mark: The Blair Witch Project. Jack, how is it possible that we’ve gone almost a year without talking about this movie? This is like your and Jake’s raison d’etre for horror. This movie was scientifically made in a lab specifically to appease your delicate tendencies. Why do you think it’s even possible for people to not like this thing?
Jack: Delicate my sculpted fucking ass. And this was my movie. How dare you come in here, start talking first, and even take my thing of saying the title right off the bat? But review-spoilers, yeah, I fucking love this movie. This movie cemented my love of horror. I was 10 when this came out in 1999. I’ve seen it more than twenty times. However, your baseless accusations aside, you bring up an interesting point: the movie is surprisingly divisive within the horror community. I think it more or less comes back to how you feel about the found footage genre as a whole. TBWP didn’t do it first, but it sure as hell did it most famously. If you came here for a history lesson, then first, you’ve made a wrong turn, and second, psych, turn back around again because I’mma give you one! Cannibal Holocaust was the first to really do the found footage thing and it came out in 1979. The Last Broadcast is also a notable precursor which came out in 1998.
Mark: Nothing jumpstarted the sub-genre like Blair Witch though. I mean it fucking exploded afterward. We’ve already reviewed four found footage movies on this website, and have a few more in the chamber. It’s not hard to understand why either. The Blair Witch Project made an astounding $250,000,000 off of a $22,000 budget.
Jack: Yeah so here’s the thing about the movie: when it came out people thought it was real. The Last Broadcast had come out a year before but basically no one had seen it. So us naive denizens of the 90’s stumbled out of this thing thinking we may have actually just watched a snuff film. I remember getting into heated debates in elementary school about whether or not this was a real thing that really happened. I was pretty damn sure this thing was the real deal.
Mark: It’s a hard thing to explain to people who were either too young or weren’t even born yet (get off my fucking lawn), but most people didn’t have access to the internet, let alone social media. IMDB was in its infantile stages, and even if you had found it on IMDB using your shitty dial up modem the actors were all listed as “missing presumed dead.” The producers really fucking nailed the marketing around this movie.
Jack: Right. Plus you had to make sure you got the newest AOL update CD for free from the supermarket. And then you had to let your parents actually install it rather than using the discs to throw at each other like ninja stars.
Mark: Right, I suppose we should actually… you know… talk about the movie. That’s sorta what these things are for. We join an intrepid trio of amateur filmmakers seeking to make a documentary about some serious shit that went down in the woods of Maryland in the 40’s. You have Heather, the organizer and leader of the trip, Mike the high strung sound guy, and Josh the slightly less high strung camera guy. They use two cameras, one a shitty digital one and the other an artsy black and white 16mm film camera. Either accidental or deliberate there’s a lot of painfully 90’s over-dramatic filmmaking going on.
Jack: And dramatic it is. Our heroes start interviewing the townsfolk of Burkittsville, and they’re a bunch of fucking lunatics. There’s the woman whose infant child starts yelling no and putting his hand over her face every time she starts talking about the legend of the witch. That shit is too perfect to be planned. Then there’s the creepy old hoarder lady who tells them that she’s seen the witch, and she’s really furry. Most importantly, we get the story of what happened in the 40’s. A hermit named Rustin Parr took a bunch of town kids into his creepy basement in pairs, and made one stand in the corner while he murdered the other.
Mark: One thing that is just fucking stupendous about this movie is the acting, and there’s a very specific reason for that. With the exception of a few of the townsfolk, the actors didn’t really realize they were acting. The producers/director had given them a very loose outline of what the movie was going to entail, and also lead them to believe that the Blair Witch was a real aspect of local folklore. The trio didn’t know the townsfolk were actors, they were fed less and less food every day to raise tensions, they were given private off-stage directions about how to act each day so that the other actors would be forced to react organically, and most of the scary scenes in the movie were basically just sprung on them by the filmmakers without warning. I’m not sure they had SAG approval, but that’s why you don’t use union talent.
Jack: You do unless you want one of those blow-up rats outside your film shoot in the woods. New York labor unions lend those to actor’s guild goons on the weekends right? In any case, full of crazy townspeople, our trio of protagonists goes to film a scene at what is called Coffin Rock. Long story short, it’s called that because a bunch of horrific shit went down there, as Heather reads to us.
Mark: We get this relatively creepy backdrop of folklore just as our devil’s threesome fully leave civilization for the haunting embrace of the woods. I bet this ends well.
Jack: Mark, you illiterate TV person, it most certainly does not. Though it does start jovial and good-natured enough.
Mark: Well shit. Spoilers man. The “hike” goes from bad to worse to literally a horror movie. Basically they’re trying to find some graveyard to film, and instead they just get deeper and deeper into the woods without being able to orient themselves on the map at all. Their only respite is that they are able to hike along a creek as a means of staying positioned. This literally makes them up a creek without a paddle and figuratively makes them up shit creek.
Jack: Right. So they find their cemetery. Turns out that shit’s just a bunch of rock piles, or cairns. Josh disturbs one of the cairns, and then they make camp. There’s some creepy fucking noises off in the distance. Twigs breaking, rocks moving, etc. But clearly everything’s fine, and they chalk it up to deer or locals fucking with them.
Mark: After being lost in the woods for a full day now, they camp again. The noises come back, but this time when they wake up, someone has built a few cairns outside of their tent. Three to be precise. Not a great sign. So off they go once again.
Jack: But uh-oh, they’ve lost the map. It’s taking all the restraint I have in me to not make a Dora the Explorer map joke right now. As they hike on, blind and angry, Mikey reveals that he kicked that fucker into the creek. It’s clearly a psychotic break for Mikey, as he’s laughing uproariously, while the other two understandably freak out. The now mapless crew decides to head due south, because how could that go wrong? Easily, as it turns out. They stumble upon something intensely fucking creepy. They find a whole area of woods with little stick figure voo-doo doll guys made from tied together twigs. Everywhere. Suspended from trees, on the ground, everywhere. It’s starting to get dark, so they decide to cheese it. Cue another night of camping.
Mark: And now shit get’s real. Like realer than the stomp the yard roll call scene. Really fuckin real.
Jack: You know Mark, it’s a tough one, but I think it might even be realer than that if you can believe it. In the middle of the night, the noises are back, but this time, they're louder and creepier, oh yeah, and they brought their friend, violent tent-shaking. Like a lot of tent shaking. Our crew books it right the fuck into the dark, using the camera’s night mode as a means to vaguely show out what’s going on.
Mark: There’s so much to be said about this moment of the film because of what all was happening behind the scenes. First off, the actors did not know this was coming so their reactions are genuine. You can’t really hear it in the actual film, but the crew had people holding boomboxes in the woods playing sounds of babies crying. The thing that Heather freaks out about off in the distance is a crew member standing on a ridge in a white ski mask that started chasing after them. It’s probably a good thing they were malnourished because I would have literally shit myself in that situation.
Jack: Yeah man. Fucked up. So fucking tense. When the sun’s back out, they head back to camp, only to find it ransacked. And Josh’s gear, and his alone (that’s an Ulmec reference mofos), is covered in some weird jelly/slime shit. He freaks right the geek out.
Mark: This is as good a time as any to bring up one of the main gripes I have of this movie. The three main characters are all assholes. Josh is okay I guess, but Mike and Heather are both raging assholes. I mean, It’s not like I’m rooting for these I-thought-these-were-real-people to get murdered, but they also don’t make a strong case for me to root for them. This really only gets worse with each repeated viewing since now I know that the stakes aren’t actually high. It’s something that probably makes the film more believable in reality, but it also knocks the enjoyability score a bit unfortunately.
Jack: I dunno man, sure, they’re not great, but there’s not a lot of time before they’re at the end of their ropes either. Plus Mikey delivers what is my favorite line of dialog. As they’re trying to piece together just what in the fuck is going on (before the tent-shaking), they start throwing around a lot of ideas, which include locals fucking with them and a supernatural witch. Mikey makes the logical point that it doesn’t matter: Whether it’s locals fucking with them across multiple nights or an ancient supernatural being, it’s not fucking good and they need to get the fuck out. But they can’t. A fact evidenced by their hiking that day. They decide to just follow the creek, but somehow, they’ve come full circle, and find a log the had crossed the day before. Whoops. Exhausted, terrified, angry, hungry, and at their wits’ end, they camp for another night.
Mark: They wake up the next morning to find they are short a member. Josh disappeared in the night. Apparently Mike was actually supposed to be the one to disappear in the original script, but the director liked how much he and Heather hated each other and Josh wanted to leave to go to a Jane’s Addiction concert anyway. I have no idea if that’s actually what happened or not, but I read it once on the internet so I’m presenting it as fact. #Journalism.
Jack: Plus it was the 90’s and Josh had long hair, flannel, and a shark’s tooth necklace. All the math checks out.
Mark: Before too long, Josh reappears, but in a more “just his teeth, hair, and tongue” kinda way. Heather reacts as you would expect after finding a literal faggot of viscera outside of your campground. Surrendering to their fates, or potentially just still clinging to the hope of getting out, Mike and Heather soldier on until nightfall. As you might expect, they don’t end up getting much sleep.
Jack: No, what they do get is a whole bunch of Josh screaming. They decide to go find him in the night. What they find is a house. A creepy one.
Mark: So according to the video games (Yeah. They made three of them.) the house that they stumble upon was none other than the child murder house talked about by the townsfolk at the beginning. You got your standard creepy runes scribbled on the walls, and a surprisingly effective technique of cutting between the two different cameras to illustrate Mike and Heather separating, mostly unintentionally, to search the house. I actually really like the way the scenes in the house are constructed. Builds tension well.
Jack: Fuck man, these scenes are so tense. I love this sequence so much. I've rambled on enough, and everyone knows that Heather frantically follows Mikey down to the basement. She drops the camera as we see him standing in the corner facing it. It's fucking terrifying.
Mark: The climax legitimately haunted me for years. I saw this movie when I was about 12 years old, and my undeveloped horror brain was able to tenuously connect the thread that they were trying to spin about the kid standing in the corner. Something about my idiot self having to actually make the connection terrified me… Well, I mean that and potentially also literally watching three people get murdered by a supernatural force in the woods. It’s hard to articulate exactly why a guy standing in a corner is as creepy as it is, but this is easily in the top 5 most scared I’ve been at movies in my life. For the record Large Marge is also on that list.
Jack: Both are fucked up man. I'm too scared to think other thoughts now.
Mark: Well I guess that more or less sums it up… ratings? Nonsensical bullshit fake gameshow?
You're the fucker who took the bold text this week man, that shit was your job. Ratings.
For 1, think of how John Kimble would rate the chances of it being a tumor:
For 10, think of how Littlefoot would rate a tree star:
Jack: 8 - I do a lot of backpacking, and this shit runs through my mind constantly when I do. The pacing of this thing is so great. The concept is simple, and they fucking nail it.
Mark: 8 - Let’s start by pointing out that whether or not you like this movie it is undeniable that the execution of the found footage story catapulted the sub-genre into being a staple of the horror world. This story is incredible at building tension and builds to a climax that is a little controversial, but was exceedingly effective for me. The only thing that I can really knock it for is how abrasive the characters are, but seeing as that still serves to move the plot forward I can’t complain too much.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 10 - I fucking thought this was real. Sure I was a dumb kid, but even after 20+ viewings this thing holds my attention.
Mark: 10 - I could complain about the general low quality of the film, or the annoying grating screaming that happens for basically the entire last ten minutes of the movie. That doesn’t change the fact that PEOPLE THOUGHT THIS WAS REAL. That is literally the exact definition of immersion.
Jack: 8 - This movie builds tension perfectly and consistently until you can't take it anymore, and then pays off with a final scare that isn't just a jump scare. How did they do that?! It's so great.
Mark:5.5 - Okay so I know I said that the last scene haunted me for years and is in my top 5 list of most scared I’ve been at the movies, but aside from that literal 5 seconds of film, this thing is really more of a tension builder. I’m not saying it’s not scary, because it is, but for the most part it’s really more scary in concept than in execution.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 7 - This is all that latter half. The effects themselves are nothing more than sounds and stickfigures. This thing had a shoestring budget and knew exactly what their limits were.
Mark: 6.5 - This certainly falls in the judicious lack thereof category. Does the grainy digital camera count as an effect? Apparently one of the original pitched endings was the actors getting chased through the woods by a giant blair witch stick-doll, so I mean at least they showed some restraint. This score should probably be higher, I just don’t really know how to properly rate someone for not doing something.
Jack: 9 - Like I said before, this movie firmly cemented me in the horror world. I love it so fucking much. I've seen it so many times and every time I'm no less excited to watch it again. Watch this movie. Now.
Mark: 7.5 - The concept of this movie is amazing. So good. It’s a classic. I just can’t go much higher than this because of the tilt factor of how fucking exhausting this movie is. The video quality is relatively low (understandable but still hard to get used to) and the actors grate on you after a while (again understandable, but makes for a difficult watching experience). Watch this the next time you are about to go camping and see how it treats you.