Friday, July 11, 2014

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The following account is a true story of one reviewer’s quest to review one of the most famous horror films of all time. He was never seen again and this is the last known record of his existence on Earth. Do not read this review in the dark - this will be your final warning.

I arrive in Burkittsville early in the day and get a cup of coffee from the local diner, black and steaming. The waitress is middle-aged with dyed brown hair and a pleasant face. As she pours my coffee, she asks what my business in town is – this is a small town where everybody knows everybody and they spotted me as an outsider almost immediately.

“I’m going to find the Blair Witch,” I say.

The look of horror that came over her wrinkled face then was palpable.

“Oh, my,” she says. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Sure am,” I say.

“We get some tourists doing that every year,” she says. “Lot of em, they don’t come back. Or if they do … well, they’re not the same afterwards.”

I feel a shiver down my spine, which I ignore, and put on a steely smile. “Thanks for the tip,” I say. “But I have to do this.”

As I leave, I feel her eyes boring into my back.

The Black Hills are big and dark. Even though it is a sunny day, it looks overcast in the woods. One could get lost in there, I think. I can’t believe the size of these woods – I mean, it’d be easy to get lost in there. Especially if a witch supernaturally enlarges the size of the woods and makes it impossible to find my way out. But I need this experience to make sure my review is all the more credible!

I look at the woods and feel an acute terror. I can’t believe what I'm about to do. I take a couple of steps into the woods. The air is damp and the ground crunches and crackles under my feet with each step. Around me on all sides the woods stretch out in an inviting manner, saying come in, come further.

So I walk a few steps in. Then a few more. Then I am completely surrounded by woods. I keep going and after about ten minutes I come to a flowing stream, crystal-clear and odd amidst the eerie woods. At the bank of the stream is a small bundle of sticks. I pick it up and pocket it - maybe it'll help me get some inspiration later on while writing.

I decide I've got enough. I leave the woods and head back into town. Maybe, I think, I'll come back later on, in the dark when it's really scary. Take a longer walk then. Yes, that will add the right level of credibility to this whole thing.

I check into a hotel room at the nearest hotel to the woods, and once settled in for the afternoon, I boot up my laptop. I find The Blair Witch Project on Instant Streaming and turn it on. It's time to get down to business.

Directors: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

The film begins with a text blurb saying the characters in the film went missing and this is the only proof we have of the events that unfolded. I sure am glad the Blair Witch gave back their camera so we could see this movie! Otherwise I don’t know what we would’ve done. Also, yes, I totally believe a film distributed by Lionsgate is actually a real story found on cameras once owned by missing people.

Then we get our main characters playing a game I like to call “Camera-ception” – where they film each other filming one another.


After that, main characters Heather and Josh meet up with their other main character-slash-friend, Mike. Or as they call him, Our Little Mikey!

Truly a dignified and adult nickname.

That truly is the glare of death – are they sure THIS guy isn’t the killer in the film?

We then get some interview clips that educate us on some things – like that camera angles for documentaries in the past were getting it all wrong, and THIS is the real way to do it:


Ohhhh yeah. That’s some good documentary makin’ right there. If you don’t tell your interview subjects to hold the camera tilted up at a close-up of their faces, it’s just not as real. Almost as interesting as the only redneck white trash trailer park home to have an American flag in it. I think that’s worth noting because patriotism is at an all-time low now in this country.

Sure the flag belongs to a crazy tin-foil hat old lady who thinks she's seen Bigfoot, but ... it's still a ringing endorsement for our country! Really!

But enough of that nonsense. We do get some stories from old people in the movie about how there were several grisly murders in this town in the past. I’m sure glad these people weren’t part of the committee to make the town’s new promotional “welcome” video – I don’t think stories about that crazy time a guy kidnapped and ritually murdered a group of kids is exactly good PR.

In other news, crazy ladies who work at coffee shops AREN’T the most reliable sources! This one talks a lot about how she believes in “witches and ghosts and stuff like that.” Oh, really? “Stuff like that”? Please, tell us more about stuff like that – the viewers are waiting with bated breath. Then maybe you can show us your tinfoil hat collection and pictures of that time you visited Area 51 and thought you had an extraterrestrial experience in your sleep, but it turned out it was just some guy robbing your purse from your hotel room.


We also get a story from an old crazy woman about how she once saw a really hairy woman in the woods. Uh, excuse me lady, but they’re making a documentary about the Blair Witch, NOT about the secret origins of Ellen Degeneres!

In the woods, they wander around for a bit and show off their hairy chests and what not. Given that the Blair Witch was just described as being covered in thick, dark hair, I think they should start looking at the possibility of this guy being the killer more seriously.

Get your man boobs out of my face.

I dunno though; I’m mostly just waiting for these idiots to run into the cast of the 1981 Don’t Go in the Woods in this forest. Surely they’re built around similar agendas – I mean the killer in THAT movie was a hairy bigfoot as well; it’s pretty fucking similar.

So they manage to get lost within the next five minutes of the movie’s screentime. In the movie it’s supposed to be like a whole day, but it’s funnier to say five minutes, so that’s what I’m going with! You could also say that it’s actually the Witch messing with their minds and making them get lost in these woods that, apparently, aren’t all that small. And I’d agree with you – this aspect of the film is well done, creepy and effective.

However, for the humor-related purposes of this blog … man, these must be the biggest woods in the world! Or they’re just the worst navigators in the world.

I do have a bit of justification for that one – I mean, when they lose their map and Mikey eventually confesses to getting rid of it on purpose, we find out that apparently only Heather knew what the map actually meant and where they were going. Because you know, that’s a good contingency plan for going out in the woods! “Hey, let’s just make sure our only means of knowing where we’re going is confusing and nobody knows what it means except one person! Also, let’s make sure one of the guys that DOESN’T know what it means is the one who holds onto it!” “Awesome; we’ll get lost and die for SURE now!”

Also, Mikey seems to be taking Nic Cage classes, judging by his constant maniacal laughter and random forays into screaming his head off. That’s always good for a documentary, right?

A man truly in his element.

They also keep finding little bundles of sticks in the woods. They think it’s the Blair Witch, but I think it’s the Monty Python reenactment of The Crucible.


Josh also goes on a long-winded rant about how his girlfriend will notice if he’s gone. For some reason this goes on for quite a few lines of dialogue. Oh, really? That how it works now? Your girlfriend will notice if you go missing? Well, color me surprised. Unless your girlfriend regularly talks to the wall and confuses it for you, then I guess that’s just a strange thing to have to point out to others. Maybe there’s some insecurity at play here?

***

I hear a rustling noise outside. I pause the film. I look out the window and am surprised to see that the hotel is bordering on the forest – the trees are less than ten feet from the window. I could have sworn they were further away when I first came in. I think perhaps I simply misjudged the proximity of the woods. It happens sometimes. Maybe I'd been so preoccupied on the review I just had not noticed. That's plausible, right?

The noise must’ve been a branch, I think. Scraping on the window. I’ve seen Poltergeist. I know this whole rigamarole!

But was it just a branch? Or is there something out my window? A shadowy figure, perhaps – lurking between the trees, just out of my line of sight?

Are my eyes playing tricks on me, or is the movie getting to me? I suppose I have been doing this a long time, after all – maybe I'm finally coming a bit undone. Out the window it looks dark now, and pregnant, swelling clouds have usurped what was a pleasant sunny day.

I shrug it off. I need to finish the review. That is the main goal – I won’t, and cannot, let anything else distract me.

***

We continue the movie with the characters descending further into arguing. Josh says if Heather keeps on filming shit, he’ll THROW HER INTO THE WOODS. Grr, manly threats! Except it’s dumb because, you know, they’re already in the woods.

Meanwhile, Mikey is upset because they have no more cigarettes. What kind of backwoods convenience store is this? No cigarettes? Well, I’m certainly not ever shopping here again, no thank you very fucking much!

We're lost in the woods with no hope of getting back AND there's no cigarettes? If you don't fix this problem we'll MAKE SURE YOU KEEP BREATHING! DAMN YOU!

How the hell are they even still filming at this point? It’s been like two days and counting and the cameras show no sign of dying even though they’re constantly filming. Is there just a bunch of hidden power outlets out in these woods? Hell, just slap an ad for batteries over top – Duracell: it’s now Blair Witch accessible!

Also, this is now a documentary about women crying.

Apparently, Heather and Mikey keep getting turned around and ending up at the same place they started even though they traveled all day in a straight line. I would say this is horrifyingly creepy and macabre, but really it’s just what I told these kids before they left – shoulda brought a GPS.


We then see something finally happen as Josh goes missing in the middle of the night. Heather and Mikey wander around shouting his name at the top of their lungs. Mikey, exasperated, then says “Josh would have told us where he was by now.” Yes, that Josh was always known for telling people where he was. It was one of his defining characteristics. Except, apparently, where his girlfriend was concerned.

I will give this movie one thing, though – it at least isn’t relying on jump scares to constantly move the plot forward. Maybe if it was made ten years later it would have, but fortunately this was made in a time where jump scares were not quite as comparable in value to the lowest form of currency in another country while you're broke and living on the streets in America.

In case you’re wondering when they’re going to stumble onto the Voorhees shack with Pamela’s decapitated head inside, it doesn’t happen. But we do get the discovery of some of Josh’s clothes as well as some bloody teeth.


That’s it, put a search out for this guy!


You know, it’d really be funny if Josh had made it out of the woods and was safely back home with his family eating Cheerios by the time the rest of the movie happened.

We then get the final breakdown of Heather as she makes a video apology to everyone she’s let down through her mistakes in the film, including her parents and the parents of the other two characters. It’s an affecting and somber scene, especially in the raw darkness going on – it really makes the best use of the low-fi camera format.

Having a close-up on one eye was the best way to get the apology across. I totally see why she chose this. And yes, I realize she is supposed to be in extreme emotional distress during this scene, but I don't care; that shouldn't stop her from making better directing choices. For shame.

Then they come across a decrepit old house and, feeling they have nothing left to lose, just go in anyway. They hear some screams from upstairs, which I’m pretty sure is just the filming sessions from another movie, but they think it’s Josh. They go upstairs, but get separated. When Heather comes back downstairs, it seems Mikey has been sent to the corner for being a bad boy:

That's what you GET for taking too much ice cream before dinner, young man.

Heather falls down, and drops the camera, which now means the movie is over. What, you’re not going to go all Cloverfield on us and show us another shot afterwards of them all being happy, to juxtapose the two scenarios? Pfft. So disappointing. I mean, the way this ended as is, it was atmospheric, unsettling and really underlined how hopeless and dark the whole thing was. But I NEED to have a hokey un-subtle shot of them having fun and smiling to point out that they had lives and happiness before the movie's events; otherwise I just don't get it!

***

I’m typing the conclusion to the review when I hear the next crackle of the “branch” outside, banging on my window in the wind. My head snaps up. There’s a rash of goosebumps on my arm. There's a heavy storm outside, having crept up on me as I was enraptured by the movie, and the wind is whipping like mad. I rub my eyes – it seems there’s something out there in the woods, standing between two tall trees – a black, hooded spectre with clawed hands … but the window is dripping wet with rain and I can't see clearly. When I blink, the figure is gone.

I turn back to the computer and start to type, but my mouth is dry. I get up and pour myself a glass of water from the mini-fridge. I drink and the water cools my throat – which has become oddly parched over the course of the film. It is as if I myself have been as lost in the woods as the film’s characters, deprived of food and water. My stomach rumbles and I put a hand to it – a shaking hand, trembling with fear. My head feels light and fuzzy.

There’s a loud bang against the window, and I jump near clean out of my skin. I go to the window despite every nerve screaming for me to run, run right home and never look back. The figure is there now, and closer! I can see it’s a feminine body-shape, and beneath the cloak she has pitch-black, mottled fur which I imagine is wet with blood.

No, I think – stop, damn you; stop having such wretched thoughts. Stop imagining such horrors, for they will come true. It's just a byproduct of sitting in the dark and watching the damn movie for so long.

I close my eyes and expect the figure to be gone when I open them, but when I do she’s still there – this malefic black-cloaked horror with clawed hands and fur covering her whole body. I can’t see her face and I don’t want to.

In a fit of energy I run. I throw open the door and run down the hall, which becomes a blur of velvet-red carpeting and golden stripes on the walls. I come to a stop when the hall dead-ends into another hotel-room door. It is with an acute sense of terror that I realize it’s my own. I’ve run down this hallway, sprinting to get out into the world, but come back to the very room I was just running from!

I open the door, for there’s nowhere else to go. It’s my room, only my computer is now gone. I look around the room and it’s not there – it’s simply vanished. And out the window the hooded spectre looms. I feel the inevitability of death creeping up on me. I look out the window and this time, clear as day even in spite of the torrential downpour separating us, I can see her face – and oh it is a hideous sight to behold.

I turn and face the wall – anything to get away from the awful sight – and then the blackness comes and devours me whole.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.