the pathetic caverns - movies by title - The Blair Witch Project
eclectic reviews and opinions
The Blair Witch Project
1999, D & S:Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Don't read this before you see the movie. Go see the movie if seeing something creepy and unsettling that doesn't rely on gore-based shocks, and that doesn't insult your intelligence, is appealing to you. Then you can read my little quibbles about this fine film.
The hype around The Blair Witch Project has been so pervasive that it would be difficult for any film to live up to it, and, while I'm delighted that such a comparitively unusual film is getting such mainstream exposure, I did find it less than completely satisfying.
There were a few intrinsic things about the film that bugged me, and one extrinsic which is perhaps not the film-makers' fault, but it's there anyway:
I was bothered by the whole notion that there are things to "spoil," because at one level there aren't: this film is indeed compiled entirely from footage shot by three people wandering around in the woods. At the film's end or a few minutes thereafter the three main characters are presumably dead, and no concrete explanation is provided. I haven't read nearly half my e-mail for the last several weeks since it all said "Blair Witch Spoiler Warning," and I wish I hadn't had the mindset that there was some big surprise lurking somewhere in the film, because I kept trying to figure out what it would be. For a while I was half-convinced that Heather had had the bad luck to pick a psycho for her cinematographer (perhaps he was a descendent of the original serial killer?), and that Josh, with human accomplices or some supernatural means, was terrorizing the other two (especially after his disappearance, and during the "there's your motivation" sequence (one of the two creepiest moments in the movie, for my money, the other being the discovery of the three piles of stones)). I don't know to what degree this is a fair criticism of the film, but at the least, I think it's a fair criticism of the way it's marketed.
Internally, my big problem was that I thought its structure weakened its impact considerably. After the first two or three nights in the woods, it became much more predictable: all of the characters will, or won't survive another night in the woods, during which mysterious things will happen. When dawn comes, they will try, and fail, to get out of the woods. They will see disturbing things, and they will argue with one another. The continued, and escalating, breakdown of the characters was interesting in an uncomfortable way, of course, but it was less interesting once there were only two of them left, and I think it would have been equally interesting if it had been compressed into at least one fewer day/night cycles.
It also bugged me that the characters made no attempt to deal with the supernatural/odd events on their own terms: they didn't try to apologize or bargain with whoever/whatever was hunting them; they didn't plead with "it/them" for mercy; they didn't even (as odd as it may be for this agnostic to suggest) pray for rescue or escape; and most of all, they didn't stop hollering obscenities at the top of their lungs, which, if I were a reclusive, murderous wood-affiliated entity, would probably piss me off to no end. Nor did they try applying any of the traditional folkloric remedies for supernatural attacks like forming protective circles or pentagrams, looking for hawthorn or that sort of thing. (You'd think that Heather's character, at least, would have tried something of the sort, even if the guys mocked it.) (There's also a bit about witches not being able to cross running water that shows up in some stories, but this doesn't seem to apply to whatever Heather, Josh and Mike ran afoul of.)
Finally, if we really are supposed to think that Heather cut one of the stick figures down (as is implied by Heather's "journal" on the BlairWitch.com website and a fragment of dialog about taking a "trinket") it really ought to have been shown in the film, or more explicitly referenced in dialog since it puts a different spin on the degree to which she was meddling. (Especially after she was so careful about replacing a dislodged stone in an earlier scene.)
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