Big Effects frequently have small onsets, or so the saying goes. Similar is the case with The Blair Witch Project, a little independent film that wasn’t intended for the big screen. When pen-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez set out to make their film, they combined the traditional horror film with the metaphysical talkie after realizing they set up the ultimate to be far scarier.
As they tagged their raw footage into a full point, the stylish they hoped for was a strong television release. A surprise Sundance Film Festival screening hit in January 1999 changed everything. Rights were snared up, and Internet marketing gave the film a position of expectation, unlike anything that’d come ahead. When the film was released into theaters in July 1999, The Blair Witch Project took off in a way that no one was prepared for, steering in a new trend known as set-up footage horror.
The opening textbook lays out the introductory premise; three film scholars set out to make a talkie in the forestland near Burkittsville, Maryland, only to vanish. A time later, footage of their passage is discovered, and this film is that veritable footage. Project leader Heather( Heather Donahue) assembles her small crew that comprises classmate Josh( Joshua Leonard) and freshman Mike( MichaelC. Williams). Once introductory provisions are out of the way, the coming step is gathering intel on the civic legend of the Blair Witch from the city locals. It’s key to setting up the tradition and preparing bystander imaginations because the coming phase involves the triad venturing into the forestland the witch reportedly inhabits and instantly getting lost.
Very little happens in the way of any Blair Witch discoveries or evidence of her actuality throughout important of the handling time, save for small bits of throwaway dialogue alluding to darkness roaring or piles of jewels organized in a ritualistic fashion. The bulk of the suspension comes from the mounting pressure between the triad as their inventories and hope dwindle. Josh plays the militarist when high-threaded Heather and hourly- angry Mike continue to dispute, but indeed he loses his cool when Heather refuses to put the camera down for any circumstance.
It’s this recreating plot device that provides the biggest rule in the surge of set-up footage flicks that hastened after The Blair Witch Project in an attempt to capture that same success; noway stop rolling no matter how inconceivable effects get. On a hay budget with no room for special goods, it’s up to the small cast to bear the raw terror and frustration of being lost in the forestland for days, while the item they’re looking for may find them first. In a small film where nothing really happens for the important of its runtime, the core actors didn’t get nearly as important credit as they merited for being so credible that the cult authentically allowed what they were seeing was real.
Part of that’s attributed to the clever viral marketing that ended the movie as real, to be sure, but it’s the performances of Donahue, Leonard, and Williams that keep the followership invested, indeed as they stay for further signs that Blair Witch is out there with them. There’s no score to help boost the mood or tone, moreover. The triad cleaves to conditional moments of horselaugh, their fears always on the cliff of shattering the calm. The slightly contained fear explodes into rage and dissension, only to bring about the consummation that they all need each other for comfort to soothe it over until the coming emotional outburst.
It’s in one of those exact breaks that one of their own goes missing, transferring the remaining members ’ anxiety( and ours) into overdrive as the narrative eventually starts contending toward its portentous and ineluctable conclusion. With it the final rule established in set-up footage; shock your cult with an abrupt ending that also dares to suspend all of the answers just outside of the bystander’s reach.
By moment’s norms, the pacing of The Blair Witch Project is supposed to be too slow for an ultramodern horror cult. For the importance of the runtime, it’s up to the sound design, the actors, and the piles of jewels and sticks to hint at the possibility of the paranormal. Yet, in July 1999, this quiet, little independent film jolted the cult and became a massive slumberer megahit. Nothing relatively like it ahead had ever hit mainstream theaters.
Two directors went into the forestland with a triad of unknown actors and shot hours of raw footage to cobble into an experimental talkie-style horror film. They did it on the cheap, outside of the normal Hollywood machine. Bolstered by a viral marketing crusade on the Internet, also a pioneering move, The Blair Witch Project came out of nowhere and blindsided the world. It came as a transnational miracle that laid out the ground rules of unborn set-up footage horror flicks.
The Blair Witch Project isn’t technically the first set-up footage film, but its success made the film the design for the icing mode that waxed and waned in the two decades since its release. In the 20 times since it first took the box office by storm, numerous have tried to regain that same lightning in a bottle. Both by copycatting or by reinvention. Whether The Blair Witch Project gets under your skin with its subtle spookiness or annoys you with its deliberate pacing and shaky camera movement, it’s a fantastic time capsule into 1999 guerrilla moviemaking.