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The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams

Directed By: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

The Short Version

Behold the most profitable movie ever made.

Most surprisingly, it’s also one of the most influential of the past two decades.

Both of those things should deeply sadden any true movie fan.

No amount of advertising can change the fact that this is an absolutely terrible movie.

The Blair Witch Project is a marketing experiment that desperately deserves to be forgotten.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

E-Z CHEEZ.

It doesn’t deserve to be called cheese, but thanks to marketing, a lot of people think it is.


Pairs Well With...

EVERCLEAR.

If you really want the splitting headache that watching these people bitch at each other for just under an hour and a half in front of shaking cameras will give you, why not just do two shots of Everclear and save yourself the time and trouble?

“Okay, here's your motivation.  You're lost, you're angry in the woods, and no one is here to help you. There's a witch, and she keeps leaving shit outside your door.  There's no one here to help you!  She left little trinkets, you took one of them, she ran after us.  There's no one here to help you!  We walked for fifteen hours today; we ended up in the same place!”


The Blair Witch Project is supposed to be a scary movie, and in a sense, that’s true.  For example, it scares me to think that it’s one of the most influential movies of the past twenty years.  Not only that, but from a “return on individual dollars invested” perspective, it’s the single most profitable feature motion picture ever made.  You want to talk about superhero movie hype fests?  They’ve got nothing on what this crew did with $22,000 and a little Internet know-how.

Specifically, this crew pulled off the ultimate triumph of marketing over movie making.

Because let’s be honest (since, as we’ll discuss later, the makers of the movie weren’t): The Blair Witch Project is a terribly bad movie.

A script?  Ha!  The two guys who thought this up – Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez – came up with a commendably detailed backstory (which I can see having being put to better use as the basis for a video game, but anyway), but there’s a whole lot of extemporaneous stuff happening in terms of what the audience actually gets to deal with on the screen.  Most of the clearly scripted material goes to supporting cameo players who completely disappear after the first thirteen minutes of the film; our main trio is mostly left to its own devices, and those devices tend to involve constant bitching and moaning.  The notion of “direction” is better interpreted during most sequences as something more akin to a “serving suggestion.”  (Frighteningly, the bitching and moaning was a hoped for outcome, deliberately “suggested” by feeding the cast less and less each day, which is just the beginning of the lack of ethics involved with the making of this flick.)

Cinematography?  Most of The Blair Witch Project was shot – badly – by the three primary actors on handheld cameras.  (One of which was returned to the store for a refund after shooting was completed.  Did I mention the lack of ethics involved here?)  If you’re thinking that this sounds no different than untrained amateurs tromping through the woods with handicams for a week, you’re right, and that’s what it looks like, too.  Indeed, some theatre owners actually handed out barf bags because the camera shake is often so terrible that theatrical audiences would become motion sick.  Under normal circumstances, there’s just no way something this unprofessionally crafted would (or should) ever have made it into mainstream theatres.

Then there’s the matter of editing.  The Blair Witch Project feels like an endless drag at its release length of 81 minutes; I can’t imagine that there’s enough Imitrex in the world to make it watchable at its original cut length of two and a half hours.  There might be a 20-30 minute short that could be salvaged from this, but even that wouldn’t be good; it’d just be more tolerable than the present version that includes the extra 50-60 minutes of wretched, vomit-inducing bitching and moaning that interrupts the occasional bouts of something that might or might not resemble a coherent story.  And for those of us who, for whatever reason, do manage to make it through all of the superfluous material to the end… frankly, the payoff sucks.  (If you’re going to make the attempt, make sure to pay attention to all of the setup material that occurs during the first thirteen minutes; the ending only makes sense if you happened to catch a single line of dialogue early on, and even then, the payoff still sucks.  That all important line was even missing from some early prints, if that tells you anything about the great care that went into this thing.)

As for the acting…  It’d be easy to trash the efforts of the cast, and many have, but I won’t.  It’s not their fault.  They have literally nothing to work with, and they were manipulated like hell by the directors whose admitted idea of creating moods involved what amounted to cruel practical jokes and unethical behavior.  (I am not a fan of the “withholding food” tactic.)  And hey, nothing like listing your three primary cast members as “Missing: Presumed Dead” on every public forum you can find as a publicity stunt, right?

Yes; Myrick, Sanchez, and the distributor they sold to did exactly that, which is, rather disgustingly, a large part of why we’ve all heard of this movie, whether or not most of us have actually seen it.  (Alas, this last time was my third; there will be no more without extreme coercion.)  Actress Heather Donahue’s mother got scads of sympathy cards, because millions of people bought into the marketing lie that The Blair Witch Project was a true story and that the “found footage” really was found footage.  Of course the truth was whispered loudly enough to avoid legal trouble, but, thanks to one of the first real effective uses of the Internet to market a motion picture, the buzz got around.  It was a great for Hollywood: a grand marketing experiment on a picture that only cost $22,000 to make.  There was everything to gain and literally nothing to lose… unless one chose to actually watch the movie, in which case, losing one’s lunch was a very real possibility.  And even that was marketed as a novelty, with the end result being the single most profitable film ever made.

Lesson learned by Hollywood?  “It doesn’t matter if it’s a pile of crap.  If you sell it; they will buy.” 

Lesson learned by low budget horror filmmakers?  “Mockumentaries are where it’s at!”

Neither of these things makes for a particularly wonderful legacy, but I suspect that no one involved really cares.  Some guys who don’t actually show up on camera got to laugh all the way to the bank, and a subgenre got a subpar example upon which to base itself.  Yay.

I do feel for the actors, though.  The Blair Witch Project did them no favors, and being associated with it didn’t translate into good news for their resumes.  (It’s never a good idea to play a lousy character who happens to share your real name.)

But all of that is behind the scenes.  Here and now, fifteen years later, for all of its hype and influence, The Blair Witch Project is just another movie to be skipped or picked out from a queue.  The novelty is gone, and most of the rest was never there to begin with.  So let’s just be honest with ourselves, admit that it’s a crappy movie, and move on to the next one.

Bottom line, The Blair Witch Project just isn’t worth the effort.

Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2014


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