The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project, a nearly fully improvised film, has three students exploring the woods around Burkittsville in search for the mythical Blair Witch that used to haunt the area in the 1940’s and has been blamed for the disappearance of children from the local area. It is a film within a film that has been shot completely in first person and the three actors carry the film camera with and record all the events both mundane and terrifying.
A remarkable feat of the Blair Witch Project is its use of improvisation. Apart from a loose frame for the story and the introduction, which starts in the town, the actors are more reacting to what the producers put them through, as Tatara states: “Nearly all of "The Blair Witch Project" is improvised. Myrick and Sanchez's truly inspired approach to the film was to let their cast wander the woods for several days with a tape recorder, 16-millimeter camera, and home video camera in tow, documenting the distant noises and disturbing warning signs that their "directors" were leaving for them in the cover of darkness.” (Tatara, 1999:2) illustrating how much the actors were on character when disturbed at night without following a script, which further adds to the realism the directors were seemingly heading for. The whole situation was catered towards the three characters slowly losing their minds and perhaps by interfering as little as possible the directors managed to achieve that effect perfectly.
Figure 1. Bleak (1999)
Another great contributor to the believability of the film is a little child, whose mum is being interviewed on the first day. While his mum tries to tell the myth of the Blair Witch to the camera, her child repeatedly claps his hand over her mouth as if trying to quieten her. As a toddler, it would be unlikely that the child would have been told to do that which further adds to the tension and uneasiness of the Blair Witch Project.
The three main characters in the Blair Witch Project decided to use their real names, to further add to the realism of the film within the film which perhaps also lets more of their own personality seep into the characters they are portraying. Ryan says: “The three actors use their real names, and it's a choice that reflects the conviction they bring to the roles. The way the narrative unfolds is straightforward and framed as a documentary, but it wouldn't work without some finely calibrated judgment by Donahue, Leonard and Williams. Each establishes a defined personality, and their responses to every new crisis are very persuasive. They illuminate character, even in the gathering darkness. The aura of credibility in The Blair Witch Project owes much to their contribution.” (Ryan, 1999:2) demonstrating the importance of these actors as their well-defined characters contribute to the illusion of their reactions to the events unfolding around them, through this means all the inter-character interactions, arguments and emotions may be felt as more real by the viewers.
Figure 2. Lost in the forest (1999)
As the Blair Witch Project makes use of first person camera only, the characters never recap which leaves the viewers to fill in gaps that are off camera, there is also a considerable amount of information just portrayed through sounds at night, when the film on the camera is nearly black and characters as well as actors are at their most vulnerable, as Cover states: “The film draws us in with hints about what's happening off camera. Whether you believe completely human evil or something mystical is at work, there's ample evidence to support your theory. "The Blair Witch Project" creates a waking nightmare with the most basic ingredients: our instinctual fear of cold, hunger, darkness and unseen predators. It shows that our grip on sanity is weaker than we believe, and our fears are stronger.” (Covert, 1999:2) perhaps illustrating how both actors and characters together dip into the madness he shooting of the film has held for them, which again greatly amplifies the realism-like style that definitely seems to be achieved by just mixing the absence of a few everyday comforts together with a local myth, that has driven the main characters anyone to their brink of insanity over time.
Figure 3. Insanity (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is a low budget film that has gained great reputation by not showing the monster that has been hinted at for so long but still being utterly terrifying, as Tatara states: “"The Blair Witch Project" is scary because it doesn't really show you anything ... a lesson that other horror directors would be well-served to learn. There's only a brief moment when you see blood, but it registers like a howitzer. For the most part, the soundtrack is what does it to you.” (Tatara, 1999:2) implying it’s not giving the viewers the solution they have become to expect after getting them delivered by films like Jaws or Alien. Which makes the Blair Witch Project even scarier, as it caters to the viewer’s fear of the unknown which, depending on the person, could be much greater than any monster mankind can bring onto the screen.
Altogether, The Blair Witch Project is a film that, even with (or maybe just because) a very low budget, gained a great reputation as it differs from other horror films by not showing the culprit, the hunter at the end and leaving that space blank for the viewer to fill in which might be done with more imagination and finesse than the producers could have ever done and with that provoking the most primal fears to the surface, which might be the reason why it is such a success.
Figure 1. Haxan Films (1999) Bleak [Still of the Blair Witch Project] available from: http://flowersoffleshandblood.horror-extreme.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/blairwitch.jpg (accessed: 24/3/2015)
Figure 2. Haxan Films (1999) Lost in the forest [Still of the Blair Witch Project] available from: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-dnVXXEkdQ6U/UFPGQcisKTI/AAAAAAAAL7c/--VDAQEtbAM/s640/The+Blair+Witch+Project+Screenshot+3.jpg (accessed: 24/3/2015)
Figure 3. Haxan Films (1999) Insanity [Still of the Blair Witch Project] available from: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/DuyeQYQqnhk/hqdefault.jpg (accessed: 24/3/2015)
Covert, Colin. (1999) Available from: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/11487466.html (accessed: 24/3/2015)
Ryan, Desmond. (1999) Available from: http://articles.philly.com/1999-07-16/entertainment/25523879_1_myrick-and-sanchez-blair-witch-project-filmmakers (accessed: 24/3/2015)
Tatara, Paul, (1999) Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9907/22/review.blairwitch/ (accessed: 24/3/2015)