Nothing less than one of the scariest films of all time.
Later it became a challenge to go into The Blair Witch Project and not let it scare you – as if any horror film would work under such circumstances – but when it first snuck into theaters, thinly disguised as actual found footage, the picture left audiences shaking.
The premise is both gimmicky and inspired, a high-concept contrivance that’s brilliantly fleshed out. “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary,” the opening titles read. “A year later, their footage was found.”
That footage consists of film students Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams getting lost, being tormented by unseen forces at night and eventually turning on each other. Using only the basics of cinema – motion, light and sound – the writing-directing-editing team of Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick evoke fear and paranoia with a sinister simplicity.
Some scenes take place in total darkness, so that the audio from Heather’s video camera provides our only sensory clues. Others unfold under the sparse lighting of the video camera’s lamp, which is only strong enough to illuminate the spindly branches and broken logs that are three feet in front of us, not the unknown horrors that lay beyond.
The Blair Witch Project not only shows us how fear can come to dominate the human psyche – it lets us experience it. The indie sensation led to an awful sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and a host of “found footage” imitators – some silly (Quarantine), others inspired (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity). It’s a landmark not only in horror, but of film form itself.