The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick

If one great thing can be said about the phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project and all its attendant hype, it is the hopeful idea that a film with a tiny budget and a great premise could go from an inconsequential blip to a major hit, more or less apart from the conventional Hollywood hype machine. This film was marketed brilliantly, but it also owes its success to a jaded moviegoing audience desperate for anything with an ounce of real creativity.

An unsurprising reaction to all of the hype has been knee-jerk reactions from both sides of the fence. Many critics have called this one of the scariest movies ever made, making much of how it leaves the really scary imagery to the audience's imagination. Other people, mostly moviegoers looking for sheer on-screen terror to match the hype, have called the movie boring, annoying, not at all scary, and even among the worst films ever made.

The rather unexciting truth is that Blair Witch is neither the scariest movie ever made nor a bad movie. It doesn't deliver on the promise of its set-up entertainment-wise, but it has its merits. And don't forget, it's just a movie, anyway.

Problems: The movie takes way too long to get going, and once it gets there, doesn't deliver a lot in the way of thrills. And I'm not asking for big, scary, special- effects laden thrills, either. Just something more than the same ol' piles of rocks day in and day out. (Though that's a good a metaphor for my day job, which is arguably a more terrifying premise for a movie.)

The audience is forced to sit through some very slowly-paced interview scenes to finally venture into the woods with the three now-ubiquitous "filmmakers," and then there is far more in the way of getting lost and arguing then there is of the admittedly tense nighttime confusion and general freakiness. This builds a lot of tension, so I can see the argument that the boring shit needs to be there to set up the payoff.

But the payoff, frankly, was just not very scary. It was tense, yes. After the first bad night, when the group is awakened by eerie sounds and ventures into the darkness, spooked and disturbed, I finally leaned back in my seat and thought "here we go." But the wild ride never really came. There was the mildly disturbing scene of the yucky pile of teeth, and the final scene when Heather and Mike enter the house is a white-knuckler, even if it does smack of the climactic scene in The Silence of the Lambs.

The nighttime scenes are especially well- edited, and Donahue's "confession" scene, despite about 600,000 subsequent parodies, still holds up. The handheld camerawork serves the movie well, even if it most probably a good mask for technical ineptitude.

As far as the acting, I will hand it to Heather Donahue, Josh Leonard, and Michael Williams for their relatively natural reactions to events, the contrivance of Mike's kicking the map into the creek notwithstanding. (Or did he? We'll never know …) But as with any road trip, they all start getting on the audience's nerves with their annoying idiocyncracies and grating dialogue. True enough to life, but not all that pleasant to watch.

I admired the ambiguities left by the film's ending. The questions it raises as to what exactly happened, and if, in fact, there was a witch at all, are what I latched onto after seeing it. It made the experience a lot more cerebral than I expected, if not nearly as visceral. And the sudden ending is a nice change from th elong goodbyes of so many Hollywood films, which tack on ending after ending to make sure you get all the closure you could possibly need.

Ultimately, I wanted more. I wanted some creepy thing to leap out at me, dammit. Or at least some scarier sounds out there in the woods, or more action occurring at night than during the day. Still, this is a movie to admire, if not necessarily to enjoy, or even to be really freaked out by. If it weren't for the hype, I'd probably be less displeased with the content, and considered it an interesting addition to the horror genre, a very good idea with somewhat satisfying results. Admittedly my preconceptions had a lot to do with my disappointment, but that's the way it always goes, like the time I let my dog suck me off.

Review by HIP