It came at the right time. In the years since Reagan and Bush, the 1990s were a decade characterized by a need for truth, perhaps best embodied in the overwhelming success of The X-Files, a program devoted to unexplained phenomena and the camouflages that conceal them. There has also been the meteoric rise of the reality TV format, made popular by the gritty, exploitative Cops and the grungy, messy and influential MTV hit The real world.
At the same time, digital video has been widely adopted, a cheaper and easier way to make movies. The rise of digital technology has spawned a new, cruder language in cinema that has slowly spread to the big screen.
But filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez weren’t trying to tap into the zeitgeist with their successful first-year feature, at least not on purpose. They just believed that the truth could be scarier than the fiction. The two met as film students at the University of Central Florida in 1993, where they bonded over a penchant for documentaries on a paranormal subject. And so, they came up with a new concept that would define the next two decades of horror cinema: the rediscovered footage film.
The Blair Witch Project, still one of the best horror movies ever, is the movie you need stream on netflix before he leaves May 31st. Here’s why.
Author’s Note: While billed like the original trailer, the above integration was created for its 15th anniversary in 2014. This is the studio’s only official upload to YouTube.
As its now memorable poster sums up, The Blair Witch Project is a mock documentary made up of recovered footage “recorded” by missing students on Halloween 1994. Their goal is to make a documentary about a local legend known as “Blair Witch”, an entity that resides in the woods from Maryland. . After meeting locals who tell stories of kidnapped children and serial killers, the students get lost in the wilderness where they are endlessly targeted by an invisible presence.
The students were played by unknown New York-area actors whose real names became their character names: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard. (This actually resulted in Donahue’s mother receive sympathy cards of a distant relative who thought Blair witch was real.) The three were chosen based on their improvisational skills, as the film had a lean 30-page script with no written dialogue. Additionally, Leonard’s own familiarity with cameras helped him get started, and his literal goal is a big part of the film’s enduring footage.
“I read an ad in In the wings in New York, where I was living at the time. Do you know what that says? “ An improvised feature film, shot in a wooded location, it’s gonna be hell and most of you reading that probably shouldn’t come. They used all possible deterrents. When we got to the audition, there was another sign that said, ‘We want natural people … we want people who can behave completely naturally and can essentially act under extreme circumstances. If you don’t like it, go. ”
The Blair Witch Project came at the right time in the mass culture at large. As a film that eschewed the finely-groomed glamor of Hollywood, the film and its subsequent popularity – and amazing viral marketing when “viral” was still a medical term – raised questions about the blurred lines between fact and fiction. The same teens who watched Blair witch in theaters were the children who play-fought watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers years earlier. When the Columbine Massacre took place on April 20, 1999 – just three months before Blair witch’s July 30 release – perpetuators’ obsession with violent video games like Loss aroused the concerns of parents and media consumption.
That’s not to say the teens ran into the woods in droves after Blair witch, but it is a testament to the allure of the popular media of the moment, especially those that innovate a new cinematic language in front of the public in real time. The cinema verite existed before Blair Witch Project – documentaries like Seller (1969), Give me shelter (1970), and the political document The war room (1992) all have a similar narrative and visual style – its haunting premise and its implicit question, “Is it real?” contributes to its mystique.
This mystique is reinforced by its frames: the endlessly grainy image, a switch between Hi-8 and 16mm formats, and a dizzying composition indicating the work of amateurs all create a presentation that comes feels as if you were looking at a strip of coal dug up. It is the negative energy for The Blair Witch Project that films and filmmakers influenced by him do not understand. Maybe nothing ever will.
Compare Blair witch to another movie you’ll find when you search for “Blair Witch” on Netflix: 2014 As above, so below. Recognizing that it was made fifteen years later after leaps in mainstream filmmaking, its comparatively cleaner look and familiar Hollywood faces – Ben Feldman, then fresh out of AMC’s award-winning film Mad Men, and Perdita Weeks, now a regular series on the procedural hit Magnum PI watched by millions of people – make sure there is a detachment to ‘reality’ that Blair Witch Project avoided, even accidentally.
It’s not supposed to choose a movie – The Blair Witch Project himself is at the center of a multimedia franchise that includes comics, video games, two sequels, and, in a fun way, his own. making-of documentary – but what does Blair witch always special in 2021 is how it incredibly maintains the same power it had in 1999. We no longer wonder if it’s real, but its raw structure that avoids painstaking plots or even well-made jumps. is simply everything that the horror of the 2010s is not. It’s not real, but it feels real.
Trailer for The Woods movie, a 2015 retrospective documentary on the making of The Blair Witch Project.
I was seven when The Blair Witch Project became a success. Too young to see it in theaters, I understood it by osmosis. First came the TV commercials, which were scary enough to prevent any child from passing through the living room. Then came the parodies Horror movie (which I watched no matter what my mom said) and Cartoon Network in a series of award-winning promotions which pitted Blair Witch against the Scooby-Doo gang. Later I remember walking around Walmart and seeing the VHS of the movie on a shelf, his image of Donahue looking down at an irremovable camera flashlight from my memory. Looking into her wide open eyes then terrified me, as if she was screaming at me for help as I was on my way to play at the Nintendo booth.
It’s only Paranormal activity, another crucial, low-budget horror that hit gold the same way as The Blair Witch Project ten years later, that I felt old enough to finally see what it was about. Although the films found have evolved into the hot new genre with Cloverfield (2007) and Quarantine (2008), all informed by a more modern approach to our understanding of ‘reality’ – that is, the ground floor coverage of the war on terror – there was something to The Blair Witch Project it still gave me chills. I felt it again now, revisiting it for this piece. It’s not that The Blair Witch Project is real, it’s just convincing enough that you can believe it.
The Blair Witch Project is streaming now on Netflix through May 31.