Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
Running Time: 81 mins
The Blair Witch Project is an American film about three students who disappear after travelling into the woods to film a documentary about an urban legend of ‘The Blair Witch’, with the only record of their time a clips of found footage.
This may be a hugely significant and brilliantly original symbol of the modern horror genre, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that this just isn’t a captivating film. Sure, it’s got a then unique style to it, as well as pretty well-established characters (as far as horror movies go), and a couple of impressive sequences, but, when watching this film, you’re more likely to feel frustrated than genuinely terrified.
The main problem with this is how the story is laid out. It knowingly takes on the clichéd tale of a supernatural urban myth, and that’s not at all the problem. In fact, the portrayal of the scary forces at play is arguably the most convincing and interesting thing about the movie.
No, it’s the fact that, even at only 81 minutes long, this film goes on too much, and features one of the most painful stop-start structures I’ve ever sat through, making for a hugely awkward and uncomfortable viewing experience. And I’m not talking at all about the horror or scares yet, it’s just that, as a normal film, this doesn’t hold up because it is simply too poorly paced and structured.
Firstly, the film takes around half an hour to establish the myth and the students’ characters, which is simply far too long for what is needed. The first few minutes create tension and unpredictability, but when that same pattern is repeated for so long, it easily wears off and has a huge impact on making the latter stages much less scary.
Also, Between the few night sequences which do provide some good scares, you have these long-winded day sequences where the characters are getting more and more scared in the situation. They would work had there maybe been some better dialogue, but it’s mainly the fact that you get these glimpses of how thrilling the film can be, and then are put back into these quite shrill daytime scenes that are just disappointing in comparison.
It’s not all bad, though. This film deserves huge praise for its stylistic originality, using the found-footage technique quite effectively as a storytelling device and not just for budgetary reasons, and, as we’ve seen over the last 15 years, that’s been hugely influential in the horror genre, so credit cannot be taken away from this in that regard.
The characterisation is also pretty effective. Although it ultimately falls a bit flat, the progression and development of the characters throughout is completely convincing, and often pretty interesting, and that’s something that you really don’t see in many horror movies, giving you enough connection to care about the characters in their moments of peril.
Overall, I’ll give The Blair Witch Project a 6.9, because despite being a frustrating watch, there are moments of brilliance in this massively original horror film.