BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, THE(director/editor/writer: Daniel Myrick; screenwriter: Eduardo Sanchez; cinematographer: Neal Fredericks; editor: Eduardo Sanchez; cast: Heather Donahue (Heather the director), Michael Williams (Mike the sound guy), Joshua Leonard (Josh the cameraman); Runtime: 87; Artisan Entertainment; 1999)
“I did feel like I was suffering from motion-sickness when I left the theater.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There is something to be said about simplicity: it is unencumbering. To shoot a film about a weekend excursion in 16mm and on a high-8 video hand-held camcorder and have it shown in theaters as the picture jumps back and forth during the entire film, making it really annoying to view and have the audience be understanding about this, means that this film has captured something genuine on the screen that an audience is craving for. It also should move it into cult film status for the two former Central Florida University film school students, the now 35-year-old director Daniel Myrick and the 30-year-old co/screenwriter Eduardo Sanchez, and the three unknown actors. They should all be proud of their achievement, accomplished by having a sound idea and following it through with a low-budget production (made for about $30,000).

Heather Donahue (Heather the director), Michael Williams (Mike the sound guy), Joshua Leonard (Josh the cameraman), play the three young people on camera who hike through Maryland’s dark woods in search of finding out more about the legend of the Blair Witch (Elly Kedward, found guilty of sorcery in 1785).

The film begins by announcing the disappearance in the woods of “Burkittsville Maryland” of these three documentary filmmakers in 1994, and the film presents what the camera shows was left behind after their disappearance. As we watch the footage from the evidence recovered, we know as much about the legend as the youngsters knew when they went out on their trek. The horrors come about when we see how their expressions change from one of horseplay and showing off their purchases of junk food and the good feelings they have for one another, to one of real fear and anger with each other. It is the horror on their faces and the way their expressions show real apprehension that give this film a different twist to it than the usual horror story which, too often, relies on special effects. It matters not what is seen along the way or how well they are acting, more accomplished professional actors could not have done a better job. What is really scary to see is how panic stricken they are when they realize they are really lost in the woods, that they have little chance of getting out on their own and are in need of a rescue party to be found. This makes the last minute of the film the most haunting part. It sticks with you well after viewing it, as you wonder what could have happened to them. It reminded me somewhat of “Picnic at Hanging Rock“, that film also effectively left the disappearance up to the imagination and did not dwell on the details of the children’s demise. This method of filming mysterious disappearances proves to be an interesting way of handling it, especially when you don’t have much in your budget to do grand things with the camera and your story is razor thin.

The flaws in this project are that it was like going on the trek yourself, walking over bumpy logs, getting wet, and feeling cold and uncomfortable, and listening to all those snide remarks and the whining that came out of the three. I would not like to see other films made this way or see a follow-up to this film, a film that lucked out and became an enormous commercial success which should make “big time” movie producers drool with envy. This film just happened to capture the spirit of the project and was done in a satisfying way so as to reassure us that we were seeing something that appeared to be genuinely creepy. Follow-up films rarely capture the same spirit and by correcting the jumpy camera it would not, necessarily, enhance the film. This film did what it had to do and should be savored as the popular cult film it is or will certainly become. It made a virtue out of shooting a low-budget and unsophisticated story in the raw.

The things the film didn’t do, was give us enough information about the legend. I would have felt more toward the effort, if I had more of a story and some more pertinent dialogue to go along with the scariness of the film. It was also hard to hear the adventurer’s conversations because of the poor sound quality and their endless ramblings, punctuated only by profanity. But this is overridden by their excellent use of the forest itself as a prop, as twigs are uniquely used in a design to give the film its terrifying logo.

I would give it an A if it was shown to a film school class and held up as an example of how to make an innovative film on practically nothing. But as a professional offering, I would be more critical and my overall discomfort in watching the film would have me lower the grade significantly. Though I do heartily recommend this film for the more adventurous sorts and feel it is difficult to evaluate because of the thinness of the story and such, yet it has an appeal to it that goes beyond what we ordinarily look for in a film. That something special is what draws us to this film, but not to a point where we should remain uncritical.

The film leaves some elements of mystery about it, as its ending is very much connected to its beginning interview scenes of the locals which should provide many provocative responses from the enthusiasts of this film who will add more mystery onto the mystery. Incidentally, I did feel like I was suffering from motion-sickness when I left the theater. I wonder how many others felt that way!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”