The Blair Witch
NOTE: Comments contain spoilers.
August 16, 1999
Dear Dana and Carlo,
After reading both of your reviews of The Blair Witch Project, I am more convinced than ever that this film's success or failure depends entirely on the viewer's own personal fears. The film seeks to reach you on the most primal level. It skips logic, it skips reason, it skips intellect and goes straight to that little part of your brain that only activates in the dead of night. It's the same part of your brain that, as a child, told you there were monsters under your bed. It's the same part of your brain that made you grope to turn the light on, leap out of bed, shoot across the hall into the bathroom, pee, and dive back into bed before anything could reach out and grab your ankle. The film seeks to reach the part of your brain that feared the dark gaping maw of an open closet door.
As a child, you needed no subtext, no exposition, no narrative for those fears to be activated. They were irrational and had no basis in logic. You didn't always have to hear a ghost story, see a scary movie, or see a news report of an escaped convict for these fears to surface. Sometimes, there were nights when you were just creeped out, for no reason. The lights went off, and your brain filled the darkness with your deepest, most fantastic fears. You couldn't bear to look out into the darkness, preferring the dark cocoon of your covers instead. You wrapped every inch of yourself in a soft, fuzzy monster shield, hoping that a nubby yellow blanket would protect you from whatever it was that lurked there in the darkness.
Viewers who have outgrown the night-time heebie jeebies will not find this movie scary. You will view it with the rational, conscious, logical part of your brain, the part of your brain that thinks up real, effective, useful responses... Sure, you'll be able to imagine the possibilities, to realize that that pile of rocks didn't get there by itself. Your brain will say, "Now that would be scary," and you will be compelled to investigate it. But it won't reach that long-forgotten part of your brain that is too afraid to get up and look in the closet, preferring the minimal safety of the covers.
On the other hand, viewers like me (and I suspect Dana), who still have creep-out nights even as adults, will feel this movie on a physical, primal level. You'll feel that the camera is being wielded like a fuzzy yellow blanket, the only protection these characters have against their own imaginations and yours. You'll come to a point when you no longer wish to be there with Heather, Mike and Josh. Your body will react physically to your fear, and you will have to resist the compulsion to flee the darkened theater for the safety of the well-lit lobby. And then, the rational side of your brain, the part of you that tells you that this is just a movie, will realize that the movie is working. It is scaring you, and that's what you paid for.
You hit my feeling about this film perfectly! The footage on its own cannot account for the level of distress that it induced in me. If it could, then everyone who sees it would have the same reaction, wouldn't they? There was something profound about my reaction, and clearly something profound about yours. When I was watching it, I understood that I was reacting on a level that transcended rational thought. But I didn't know what to do with that feeling. I still don't, really.
Thank you so much for perfectly articulating the basis of these feelings. I think your ideas are dead-on, and everything you said rang true to me. It's funny, because the effect has great residual power for me. On those occasions when I've seen (in news stories or promos or ads or whatever) short clips from the film, I am immediately plunged into a state of sadness and distress... again! If it happens to be a clip from Heather's confession into the camera, I actually get tears in my eyes... instantly. How can something like this carry that sort of power? It simply has to be nudging something very deep inside of me! And--apparently--inside of you too.
Thank you for putting these responses into a context that makes me feel less self-conscious about my own feelings. I've always, always known that this film would not "work" for everyone. And I don't begrudge those who feel otherwise in their honest reactions. But I'm grateful to you for your willingness to give thought to the power of the film, and to put my "rational" mind at rest about the strange sense of vulnerability that watching it induced in me. Yes, I'm still that person who feels small in the face of the darkness and the unknown... and still that person who takes on the dread and helplessness of others as if it were my own. Even in the safety of a movie theatre. Perhaps it means I am still childish--or childlike--in some respect. That's okay. Because there are worse crosses to bear in this life.
Your response means a great deal to me. Thank you.
Note: Jen is an AboutFilm.Com contributor.
August 6, 1999
I just saw The Blair Witch Project. I thought it was the stupidest movie I have ever seen in my entire life. I mean come on there wasn't one scary thing that happened in the whole movie. You spend the entire time sitting there waiting for something bad to happen, but nothing ever does. It probably had less that 10 actors in it, and probably only had about 20 different words. All they said was f*** this and f*** that. Well this is my opinion anyway.
November 11, 1999
I found your page while researching this crappy movie for my website. I just got thru posting my page [on The Blair Witch Project], and I actually found a couple of links to people that are on our side. I put them up plus a link to your page cause I need the backing. I expect I'll get a lot of negative replies to this page. I was really disappointed by this movie, as was my wife. Thanks.
Thanks for the comment, and thanks for the link on your page. I find myself alone among the AboutFilm.Com critics who disliked this film. Why people find it scary honestly puzzles me, and I suspect it is because the film depicts things that they themselves find scary (i.e., being stranded in the woods, being alone in the dark). This makes The Blair Witch Project an even more subjective film than most, because there is little substance beyond the effort to spook you. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone in my views. For what it's worth, I did see the movie with 3 other people, all of whom were underwhelmed as well.
2 February 2000
...you're way off.
Well, you're obviously not the only person to think so.
2 February 2000
–Kris Campbell (Note: Kris is an AboutFilm.Com contributor.)
I give up. You all are right. The Blair Witch Project is the most brilliant film ever. A+ + + + + + +
17 August 2000
I am writing to you about this movie because a radio program this morning made fun of the movie by saying, "Every day we wonder for fifteen minutes how much money The Blair Witch Project would have made if it had been actually SCARY!" That says it all in a nutshell. I was not curious to see this film, but I was amazed at how many people were flim-flammed by some first-rate advertising people. This film is the equivalent of making a home movie, selling it to a distribution company, realizing a tidy profit ($2.5 Million) and then the fun begins. The distributor starts a grass roots campaign spreading around the word that this movie is the "new" Halloween or Night of the Living Dead. Go See It! As P.T. Barnum said, "There's a SUCKER born every minute!" All of my friends who were taken in and saw it said, "It Sucked... It was Nauseating... It wasn't even a little SCARY... What a waste of money!" Not the filmmakers' money, not the distributors money ...OUR money, yours and mine.
This film was made extremely amateurishly. Only Heather Donahue gave a compelling performance. Nothing remotely exciting happens in the movie. Just three college bozos hopelessly lost in the woods. Nobody thought to mark a trail. Nobody thought to remember any landmarks like a big rock, or an old gnarled tree. This trio of amateur documentary film makers are all incredibly STUPID! Yet this movie made over $100 Million dollars for the distribution company. A famous comedian (George Carlin) once said, "never underestimate the gullibility of people... If somebody nails together two things that have been never nailed together before...some SCHMUCK will buy it from them!" They are right now selling Blair Witch Project for $5.00 at video stores and are getting no takers. It seems that after a certain amount of time, people do wake up and their vision does clear and suddenly they realize... WE'VE BEEN HAD!
20 August 2000
Thanks for your e-mail. Though people who loved Blair Witch still seem to outnumber those of us who didn't (I'm still the only reviewer at AboutFilm.Com to give it a negative grade), there does seem to be a Blair Witch Backlash for the reasons you mention. While I don't actively HOPE that anyone hates a film just because I didn't like it, it does make me feel a little better about what I wrote.
The Blair Witch Project was a brilliant multi-media marketing campaign–I'll give it that. It also made some of the stodgier Hollywood types re-evaluate their accepted formulas for making a successful film, and that's always good. But as a movie, The Blair Witch Project, to me, failed utterly. The point was to improvise a film with no script, but I just don't find the exercise that interesting. I guess I just prefer films that are carefully thought out and have a story to tell. The Blair Witch Project works purely on a visceral level. If you think that being alone in the woods at night is scary, then the film will probably be scary. But that's all there is to it.
Look out for the Blair Witch copycat movies. The St. Francisville Experiment is due out soon–gee, does the title sound at all similar? It's a videotaped ghost hunt.
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