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STREAMING SELECTIONS: "The Blair Witch Project"

Artisan / Lionsgate
The "missing" flyer used to promote the 1999 indie film "The Blair Witch Project."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fear is subjective. It comes in limitless forms and factors because everyone’s threshold for terror is different. Psychological horrors may not turn the blood cold of someone who thinks brooding figures are scary and vice versa. Very few movies that rely on physical beings to scare do the trick for me (the Room 237 scene in The Shining being a huge exception).

What gets to me is the shapeless or that which you can’t see. It could actually be there or it might be all in your head. Either way, it affects when it strikes. What you don’t see being scarier than what you do see is a concept that isn’t new in film, but it’s rarely exercised because it’s easier to show a monster, show a killer, than it is to craft an idea that could strike without warning.

The Blair Witch Project, released in 1999, was the last of its kind. It was released during the Internet boom and it used that to its marketing’s advantage. It started out as the directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez posting faux “missing” flyers around town when the film debuted at Sundance, but when Artisan (now Lionsgate) picked up the film, they used the dial-up web as their landscape.

Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard play fictionalized versions of themselves as a trio of film students that venture into the Black Hills Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a local lure named The Blair Witch.

Scenes are being filmed and cheers are had until their nights become progressively terrorized by an unseen terror and spending their days wondering aimlessly as they can’t escape the woods — or something isn’t letting them leave.

Artisan painted the picture that this horror film about three film students getting lost in the woods was real footage. They had fictionalized books, Sci-Fi Channel specials and websites created to give the impression of an authentic documentary. An advantage pre-release and a disadvantage post-release.

Audiences felt duped when the three actors showed up on the cover of Newsweek and on The Tonight Show. They weren’t actually dead and now people felt cheated. This combined with the “nothing happens and you don’t see anything” naysayers and BWP had an awkward rollout narrative with critics praising it and audiences left wondering what happened.

It’s a horror film that either baffles with its inability to provide a grounded antagonist in its visuals or it terrifies with its minimalistic capability to let the viewer’s imagination run berserk. Viewing it with a desire for it to be something it isn’t is going to disappoint anyone.

The narrative 18 years later should be that if the film wasn’t an authentic powerhouse of humanistic terror that no one would have believed it was real. The film lives and dies with the actors’ incredible performances. Heather’s outburst of “it’s all I fucking have left” when asked why she keeps filming can’t be trained or rehearsed.

These were actors, yes, but they were living this life for their performances for a week.

One of the most terrifying scenes in film history revolves around a scene that starts out in their tent at night. The camera clicks on to darkness as the sounds of children talking outside their tent slowly gets amplified. Children talking, to crying, to their tent being violently shaken and they run out in utter hysterics. It’s a scene burned into my memory since I first saw it and it’s the first thing I think of if I’m in a sketchy situation or dark atmosphere.

Hopelessness and despair continue into an ambiguously and unrivaled ending that still gets mentioned amongst the greatest film endings ever. Immersion is critical with all films, but this is completely different. Being that the film is all from the first person point-of-view, you are required to put yourself in their situation, and it’s not a fun thing to do.

To reflect their confusion, their complete lack of control and experience the scares with them is a horror ride that keeps delivering almost two decades later.

American independent film in the 90s was breeding eclectic voices with ambitious ideas that wouldn’t let their situation cheapen their output (think Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Richard Linklater’s Slacker, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi). BWP was another case of directors taking what they have and making a hit. They crafted their story and ideas for the film for years before shooting and it shows.

The Blair Witch Project was in the making for over seven years as the directors were crafting the story and getting the right people — all for an initial budget of $30k (the budget grew double after Artisan requested reshoots). Stories like this are way independent film is the corner mark that everyone accolades it for. It’s all about exploring the unknown or relatively unseen corners of life through a director that spends years piecing it together by any means necessary. The passion seems through the celluloid.

The genre of horror, independent film and marketing were never the same afterwards. The Blair Witch Project is a classic horror film that deserves to be thrown in the conversation of greatest in its genre with The Exorcist, Psycho and other films that were standstill moments that irrevocably changed film forever.

The Blair Witch Project is available now on HBO GO.

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About the Author

Kevin Tudor

Born and raised in the mean streets of Yukon, Oklahoma, Kevin is currently majoring in...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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