Let's get the DAT out of here!
The Blair Witch Project
Review by Ross Anthony

My goodness, this little picture has become such an event, hasn't it? The film itself (without the chatter) wouldn't be much more than a video teens might think pretty cool. However, everyone is talking about this film; the gardener, the taxi driver -- I just discussed it with a semi-retired notary in San Louis. Unless you're one of those weird, remote, or way-married folks who never see movies anymore -- you've heard the hype.

Admittedly, I wouldn't have seen it without the popularity, without the lines of people outside the theaters. Alas, my ever-growing curiosity could no longer remain in the dark.

What it appears to be: The picture is about a film crew of three young people (Josh, Mike and Heather) with the mission of documenting the legend of Blair Witch. Supposedly, in 1940 seven children were killed up in the back woods of New England and since then the older generation has always spoken of hauntings.

The preface (in text) tells us that this documentary trio disappeared and that we're about to see the film and video tape that they left behind. The first twenty minutes are spent in nearby towns interviewing a few people concerning their knowledge of the myth and whether or not they buy into it. But much of the footage holds behind the scenes glimpses of the young trio as they think and talk about their mission. It's reminiscent of MTV's "Real World."

The remainder of the film is shot with no other subjects beyond these three crew members in no other location than in the woods. No witch is ever filmed. In short, there's a lot of shaky camera movement, hiking, arguing about map interpretation, and spooky noises in a dark tent during the four or five nights.

Heather is the director and project leader, she drives the crew. It appears to me that she is in on the hoax. The other two actors seem to be truly bewildered and increasingly "freaked out" by what appear to be "the real" filmmakers (or producers, or friends of Heather) out in the woods making cackling noises, ruffling the tent mesh, and leaving creepy patterns of stones and sticks. Though I must say, Heather's cracking voice and red-eyed tears often had me reconsidering my assumption.

Did I say "hoax"?
Perhaps hoax is too strong a word. Anyway, what's really happening is... before the shoot, "real" directors Myrick and Sanchez provided their three person mock-documentary crew a 35 page outline, a crash course on 16 mm film and Hi-8 video photography, and daily clues left in a box. From there, "BWP" is three rattled actors doing a fine job of ad-libbing. Whether or not the actors where informed that they'd be harassed at night, I don't know. Either way ... Myrick and Sanchez were getting heated drama during the day and truly animalistic fear-filled utterances from them in the dark.

Technically speaking:
The little film is shot mostly on video tape and 16mm film, both of which are not considered acceptable formats for the big screen under normal circumstances. However this is not a normal situation. I have high praise (and envy) for the conception of the "Blair Witch Project." The filmmakers took a great idea, lied a little, and made a motion picture out of a bunch of sticks and very little money. I'm sure they'll have secured themselves a nice budget for their next production.

(FYI: DAT is Digital Audio Tape. The three often worry about getting the DAT back. Which means ... they'd probably rented sound recording equipment and needed to return it promptly or pay penalty fees etc.)

Entertainment value:
Oddly I found most of the production rather interesting -- though nothing terribly scary till the end, which was more of a spooky cub-scout-camp-story scary than really horrific. I enjoyed the drama between the three. I wanted to see just how long Heather could keep these guys from beating the crap out of her or taking off on their own. The sometimes extremely heated arguments (usually between Heather and either one of the guys) did get tiresome. That and the video was very jittery at times -- beyond what was necessary to create the sense of nervousness I'm sure they wanted. I had to intermittently look away from the screen to prevent a headache. Ultimately, the movie was better than I'd anticipated, a curiously unique endeavor on it's own (which I'm reviewing) and plainly outstanding as the event that it's become.

The Remarkable Dollar Stats:
Filmmaker's budget: $35,000
Artisan's purchase price: $1.1 million
Projected domestic box office gross: $100 million

Starring Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams.
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez.
Released by Artisan.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:19:13 PDT