“In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.” Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard), and Mike (Michael C. Williams) are making a documentary about the mysterious Blair Witch. They misplace their map and get lost in the woods. Meanwhile, they’re hearing weird noises, and someone is leaving behind odd items like stick figures and piles of rocks. As the situation becomes steadily more hopeless, their tempers flare and food runs out. When one of them disappears, their only option is to keep looking for a way out.
This is the movie that made famous the found footage technique, and is well-known for the erratic camera movement making people sick. Viewers were also angry with its subtlety, which is best captured in an episode of Family Guy when Brian relates what’s happening to a blind viewer: “Okay, they’re, they’re in the woods. The camera keeps on moving. Uh, I think they’re looking for a witch or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t listening. Nothing’s happening… Nothing’s happening…Something about a map…Nothing’s happening…It’s over. A lot of people in the audience look pissed.”
I first saw the movie in the theatre when I was sixteen, and I was disappointed and confused. I had many a conversation with my friend Hope about what actually happens in the movie and also what the filmmakers could possibly have spent $60,000 on. But twelve years later I can better appreciate the film for veering away from the typical Hollywood monster movie. It’s a little frustrating to not have a straight answer about what the witch is or does, but it’s also scarier that way.
Aside from all that, worth noting is all the eerie stuff you do see, like a bundle of Josh’s hair and teeth, and the house with dozens of child-size handprints on the wall. I can appreciate that it’s a study of people going crazy rather than a monster movie; the performances are amazing. I also enjoy the lack of romantic subplot—if Stephen King had written this, Heather and one of the guys would have hooked up just to relieve the tension. The film manages to be scary without gore or a CGI monster (if not for the profuse swearing, the film would likely be PG-13), which is worthy of respect in my book. And others agree: it made #30 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
I myself had no problem with the camera work, but I had a hard time following the dialogue, with the characters regularly incoherent with panic and shouting over each other—thankfully it’s close-captioned. (I love also how the captions try to convey the odd happenings: “distant whispering voices,” “eerie hooting,” and “agonized shouts.”) I don’t see why Heather’s apology scene is mocked so; it’s convincing and creepy—though I could definitely do without seeing up her nose.
All in all, it’s depressing, scary, and atmospheric. I couldn’t go straight to bed after watching it. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a trailblazing contemporary classic.