Three filmmakers in search of malignant history behind a local myth discover that the supernatural still walks the woods: and whatever walks there, walks alone. The visceral power behind the film lies in its faux documentary structure, shot on handheld cameras from a point-of-view perspective without music, minimal editing, or other conventional cinematic cues to remove the audience from the horror: it’s a slow descent into hellish nightmare without over-the-top graphics, relying on the pure adrenaline rush of hysteria.
The film’s advertising was crucial in fooling many viewers into believing this was an actual documentary, creating a detailed legend of the Blair Witch and its environment saturating the internet and airwaves, with seemingly genuine police reports and interviews to substantiate the claims. Wonderful! Even now, with the film an obvious gimmick, it still holds up very well and is still highly entertaining.
The film follows three film students on a mission to document the legend of the Blair Witch, as the camera captures them behind the scenes as opposed to acting before the camera. Heather, Joshua, and Michael eschew Hollywood stereotype and become easy (if sometimes annoying) characters in whom the audience can easily sympathize. As they become lost and aggressively erratic, their plight seems ridiculous because it is deadly, their demeanor changes and they begin to blame each other, possessed by true human emotion so lacking in most horror films. Strange symbols woven together with sticks and string hanging in the trees, eerie howling and children’s voices at night, and the ever-increasing tension that they’re walking in circles is impossibly creepy. When Joshua disappears, the suspense becomes chaotic and bloody teeth depict the seriousness of their predicament: this is no fucking joke. By showing little blood (the teeth wrapped in cloth), no rubbery monsters or misshapen makeup, or revealing the Witch itself are strokes of genius (and budget) that don’t sell the story short.
The ending is ripe with paranoia and thick with fear, as a dilapidated house looms from the darkness like some Cyclopean monolith (I can imagine the frightful oozing Cthulhu lurking in the basement), and a shock ending that keeps its secrets…and takes it to the grave.
Final Grade: (B+)