This January, The Blair Witch Project will be 20 years old. I remember my parents renting it when I was around ten, and being unnerved but not quite following what was going on.
It’s popped in and out of my mind several times, but I never got around to rewatching it. Until, that is, I found the DVD in the five dollar bin at Walmart. A few months shy of its 20th birthday, I would finally be watching the infamous Blair Witch Project.
The Blair Witch Project owes much of its success to its innovative marketing campaign. Found footage, though not new, was new to the vast majority of American audiences of the time.
The actors were believed by the public to be dead, with missing persons posters made up for the lead actors, and Heather’s Journals released on an official website for the “documentary”. IMDb listed them as missing, presumed dead for the first year after the movie debuted. There was even a mockumentary called The Curse of the Blair Witch, which debuted on the SciFi Network before the theatrical release of the film.
These strategies lead to much debate over the truth behind The Blair Witch Project. Was it another movie, or something real? Audiences had to see for themselves, leading to the film becoming one of the most high earning independent films of all time and establishing the found footage genre, leading the way for movies like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity.
When the time came to finally sit down and watch the movie, I hit play with a surprising amount of trepidation. Even knowing the movie was fake, there was something unsettling about the found footage aspect of the film.
My empathy for the doomed trio waned thin within the first few minutes of the movie. Heather was obnoxious and I couldn’t tell the two men apart until eighteen minutes into the movie (yes, I counted).
I also found myself confused by the stories the locals were telling. Who is the villain here? They talk about a witch, banished in the 1700s for practicing witchcraft, while also going into detail about a hermit who kidnapped eight children in the 1940s. Legend says he would bring them into the basement in twos and have one stand in the corner while he murdered the other (if you don’t remember the ending of the movie, keep this in mind.) So who haunts the woods?
The movie is supposed to start getting scary about 26 minutes in, but I wasn’t feeling the tension. The group hears sounds all around them in the woods, but all the audience can hear is Heather screaming “Hello!?” into the dark. After daybreak, the group moves on.
The movie gets monotonous at this point; the day scenes contain zero scares, just a lot of people wasting time considering they’re in a hurry. In the night scenes, we hear the protagonists talk about the noises in the woods rather than being able to hear the noises for ourselves.
Forty minutes in, Mike reveals that he kicked the map into the river, because “he was frustrated and it wasn’t helping.” Right. Shorty after that, we meet the stick figure from the movie poster, which looks creepy but was never given any meaning.
Josh disappears, and the next night his screams can be heard throughout the woods. Mike and Heather wake up to a bundle of sticks at their door like an Amazon Prime package, which Heather looks at more closely to find it stuffed with Josh’s blood, hair, and other accoutrements.
Night falls and we’re treated to the famous selfie monologue. I experienced a bit of the Mandela Effect during this scene, because I always thought she said “I’m so scared”, but that phrase never comes up.
The movie then reaches its climax as they follow Josh’s screams to an abandoned house, where Mike runs to the basement. Heather follows, and the last thing we see is Mike standing in the corner before Heather is knocked over and the movie ends.
The Blair Witch Project asks us to be scared but doesn’t give us anything to be afraid of. It’s hard to feel the fear of the characters when you can’t hear what’s scaring them. We’re shown piles of rocks and hanging stick figures but never told what they signify. They seem to imply witchcraft, but the ending shows Mike in the corner, the hallmark of the murdering hermit, not the fabled Blair Witch.
While some of the imagery was creepy, there was nothing to fear from the plot. But in spite of its shortcomings, The Blair Witch Project did something important. It proved that found footage movies could succeed, and was the start of a sub-genre that is still turning out quality movies decades later. We owe it a rewatch for its 20th birthday.
For more on The Blair Witch Project, check out our article on the wild theory about the film’s REAL killers.