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"Final Thoughts on The Blair Witch Project"

by James M. Palmer

(Previously unpublished)

(Note: Although much of the hype of The Blair Witch Project has died down, I wanted to get this out there. This is part of a letter that I wrote to Paul T. Riddell about The Blair Witch Project. My intention was to share my thoughts about this incredible movie, as well as to make his Letter of the Week status, which I did. Anyway, what follows are some of the ideas in my letter as well as other things I thought of later. For those of you who haven't seen the movie, I hope it makes you want to check it out post haste; for those who have already seen it, I hope it makes you want to go back and look at it again.)

Horror movies haven't fared that well in recent years. A few, like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (and their sequels) reached blockbuster status through their use of young, photogenic stars and cheap startles, while most of the horror films made in the past few years have gone direct to video. This is why The Blair Witch Project is a bright spot on the horizon.

The Blair Witch Project differs from most current so-called "horror" films in that it is actually scary, with better acting than any horror movie done previously. Jennifer Love Hewitt screaming because there are crabs in her trunk doesn't hold a candle to the palpable fear of Witch's lost protagonists. Also, there is a tension between the characters that was tight and kept getting tighter, right up until the bitter end. And it is an end that the audience knows will eventually come, because at the beginning we learn that the three film students disappeared, and only their footage was found a year later. There is no way out, no hero or heroine finally turning the tables and discovering the ghoul's identity (a ploy that always reminds me of every episode of Scooby Doo: "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you snooping kids!")

The three characters, Heather, Mike and Josh, are victims: of their own ignorance, and of the unseen forces that constantly toy with them throughout the whole movie. They do commit a few lapses in intelligence that seem to be the mainstay of horror movies: they never realize that their compass is screwy and that there is obviously a bigger magnet pulling on it than that of Magnetic North, and they follow Josh's voice to the old house, never imagining that it is leading them to their doom. These mistakes are forgivable, though, because they never understood what they were up against in the first place.

And what do Heather, Mike and Josh face in the woods? We are never told. It is the fact that whatever is out there remains unseen that makes the film so frightening. But beyond the scares, Blair also gives us other things, like every campfire story we have ever heard, except we live it with the characters. Think about how you would feel if you were lost in the woods; imagine the feeling of helplessness. Another thing that occurred to me after viewing this movie for the second time is that The Blair Witch Project is also like an urban legend. Heather says several times during the movie that it is very hard, if not impossible, to get lost in America these days; how these things shouldn't be happening because this is the twentieth century. I think this is why urban legends still fascinate us: despite all our technology and understanding of the world there is still room for phantom hitchhikers and Bloody Mary appearing in our bathroom mirrors with the right incantation. Also, the movie's documentary style tricked a good number of people into thinking that the movie was a depiction of real events. The verisimilitude was a stroke of genius. How many people went to see it thinking that it was real?

Not only is The Blair Witch Project a brilliantly filmed masterpiece, it also serves as a wake-up call to Hollywood to get its creative act together. This film finally shows us that there can be something new under the sun, as long as there are people intelligent and creative enough to try.

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