THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
by Jesse Gale
YORK, 25 August 1999 - The Blair Witch Project has been
touted in the mainstream media as a suggestive squealer of a horror
flick, but it won't make your flesh creep. Instead, Blair Witch
fascinates through its disturbing chronicle of twisted-kid group
dynamics. Not only does the film show viewers what would happen if
The Lord of the Flies included girls on film, but -- more
frighteningly -- it shows audience viewers their own lust for cruelty
Made on an impressively low $40,000
shoestring budget, Blair Witch Project reflects on sadistic
voyeurism as it trails three would-be filmmakers on a hell trek.
Initially, it looks like a Halloween Special of MTV's Road Rules:
Heather (Heather Donohue), her cameraman Josh (Joshua Leonard), and
her new sound man Mike (Michael Williams) set out giddily to document
their search for the Blair Witch, a hideous beastie who bloodies
children at will in the Maryland woods.
The crew is initially
skeptical about the Blair Witch legend; but Josh and Mike, provoked by
the acts of malevolent spirits, increasingly suspend their disbelief,
and Heather's realist approach to the documentary begins to grate on
They turn on their bossy-girl leader, unwilling to
believe her stories anymore. In the dark, Heather breathes low: "did
you hear that baby screaming?" Her tent-mates snarl back: "There's
no fucking baby out there; there's no fucking baby out there."
Throughout, the film agonizes over what's real and what isn't; the
film's internet site and promotion titillate viewers with hints that
Blair Witch documents actual horrors.
But no one with
half a grain of sense believes that shtick. It's clear that directors
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez have merely utilized the Real
World / Road Rules pseudo-documentary form to create a spooky
adventure. But many viewers don't realize that Myrick and Sanchez
critique the faux documentary form. By focusing on how cameras can
become instruments of torture, the film comments on what audiences
look for in these faked documentaries. Witches and bloodied plastic
heads are just a hoax; the real horror is the audience's desire to see
how people humiliate each other. We want the juice of metaphorical
backstabbing, not spurts of red syrup.
Gregg Hale, a producer
of the film, explained to the Village Voice what's special
about the Real World format: "By applying the same
physical and mental stresses to the actors - lack of food, lack of
sleep, walking them around, fucking with them at night, we hoped by
the time we really needed them to freak out, they would be able to tap
into areas of their psyche they normally wouldn't be able to tap into.
We wanted to capture those moments of magic that you just can't
script. "Turns out, the magic that the filmmakers captured is far
freakier than Heather's mucosal weeping and shrieking - excretions of
a cheaper sort.
What the audience secretly craves-- and what
it gets in gross -- are gruesome alliances and powerplays, minute
tortures inflicted by each actor on the other. At one point (with the
spooky stuff well under way), Josh relieves Heather of her camera (her
only true friend?), and gazes through it at her shame and misery. "I
see why you like the camera," he drawls at his cringing subject. "It's
like you can pretend everything's not really the way it is." The
film offers something more, or something different, than fear. It
offers disgust, and for those who identify with the characters, a
bonus of vicarious shame.
At the Angelika Film Center in
Manhattan, one audience member griped: "That wasn't scary at all."
But audiences shouldn't look to be Halloween / Scream scared.
To appreciate all the film's creepy gifts, consider the viciousness of
the characters - and the audience's interest in that viciousness. More
frightening than gift-wrapped giblets, The Blair Witch Project
offers an all too real look at why we like to watch people fall apart,
how that consoles us and how it thrills us. By examining that creepily
human compulsion, the film is better than scary - it's excrutiating.