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The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Rated R

Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Finally, a horror film without the unnecessary addition of 14,000 CGI effects, buckets of blood and a bevy of stupid, half-naked teenagers. The Blair Witch Project is a testament to what makes a film truly scary: your runaway imagination trying to cope with the unseen evils in the dark.

The Blair Witch Project is a "documentary" which claims to reveal what happened to three college students who disappeared in 1994 while making a film about a witch that is supposed to haunt the woods outside of a small Maryland town. Supposedly, the footage was found buried under the foundation of a 100 year old cabin approximately one year after they disappeared. This film is supposed to be the footage they shot before they disappeared.

And that's how it starts. Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams are seen assembling their gear before the film shoot begins. The three college students take a 16 mm film camera, a Hi-8 video camera and some sound equipment to record their findings. The movie consists of footage from the film and video cameras, shot by the three students themselves.

Before entering the woods, they interview some townsfolk to get the locals' take on the Blair Witch legend. The interviews produce some ominous-sounding tales of child murders, a woman whose feet don't touch the ground, and a white vapor that climbs trees. The trio laugh the stories off as being tall tales and nothing more.

After they enter the woods, things begin to unravel. They find strange piles of rocks that seem to mark something. Their map doesn't seem very accurate, causing them to wander around in circles. At night, they hear strange noises which seem to come from every direction. At first, they believe someone is playing a trick on them. But, as things gradually get worse, they start to believe that something else might be happening. The trip, originally planned for two nights, stretches on longer than they anticipated and the tension between the three gets even worse as the sounds in the night get louder and more distinct.

The marketing for the movie has been very shrewd. It is very easy to see why so many people have been sucked into believing the movie is really footage found in the woods. A documentary on the Blair Witch legend appeared on the Sci-Fi Channel several days before the film opened, adding more fuel to the debate about the film's authenticity. Rest assured, the film is entirely fictional.

That debate aside, The Blair Witch Project is a movie unlike any other I've ever seen. It's truly a scary film. Much scarier than anything Hollywood has released in a long time. The key to its success is simply that what the film doesn't show works in its favor. The film documents the mental stress of three characters who start to disintegrate before our eyes as the result of being lost, hungry, scared and hunted by something in a forest they can't escape no matter how hard they try.

The fact that it's shot by the protagonists on a mixture of black and white film and video adds to the immediacy of the whole thing. When they're scared, the camera shakes. When they're running from "something," you'll strain to see what it is, not really sure if you want to see it.

If there's a downside to the movie, it's probably that the endless panning and shaky handheld nature of the video camera footage may make some people a bit queasy. And, remember, the premise behind the movie's subject is that the footage was found and the filmmakers disappeared. Do not expect a Hollywood conclusion to this film. You'll be disappointed.

Other than that, this is a movie that will actually benefit from a home video release so you can watch it alone on a stormy night. You will get the living bejeezus scared out of you.

Trivia: Most of the dialogue in the film is ad-libbed. The cast was given basic information about the premise of the story and was told where to find food and more film in the forest. Everything else was pretty much shot as it happened. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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