The Blair Witch Project: 10 Years Later
July 14, 2009 by Zack
It was sometime in late April of 1999 that I first heard about this film. At that time, it wasn’t really known as a “film”; it was just known as “footage”. A guy at work told me, “Dude, there’s this movie coming out and all it is is this found footage of these kids who try to find a witch.” I wonder if that is exactly the same way it was pitched by directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Of course, the film was independently produced, and didn’t find a major distributor until Artisan Entertainment came along after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The buzz was coming around, but I didn’t hear much more about the movie until later that spring, when it was getting a release in a few select cities.
At the time, I was living in the Greatest State Ever, Delaware (or was it the…first state ever?), and there was no luck finding a theatre that was showing it. But I had to see this film. Luckily one of the theatres that was showing it in its “limited release” was in Chicago, and I was visiting the ‘burbs there with my sister that week. It was on!
So, let me take you back a bit. Weeks prior to venturing off to the Windy City, I wanted to know more about the film. As much as I could. In 1999, Google and Yahoo! were in their primal states, and offered only a single review from the Sundance festival, and a link to the film’s home web site. I glanced at the review, not wanting to know too much. The review didn’t really give much away, except–it did somewhat give away the ending. And I didn’t want to read that part, so once it started to spoil things, I stopped reading. I found out later had I kept reading, the whole movie would have been blown for me.
Instead, I delved into the web site. It was unbelievable. These kids were really missing. There were photos of the abandoned car, there were missing photos of the kids. I tried looking them up on the internet, too, and nothing came up. Even on the Internet Movie Database, they were listed as “missing, presumed dead”. Was I actually going to see a movie in which the “footage” is real? And what about the ending?
Does it show them die? Or are they still missing?
As the days led up to the screening, I found myself more and more obsessed with this film. I even caught the Sci-Fi Channel special “The Curse of the Blair Witch” just to find out more about it. I tried looking up whatever I could about the Blair witch, but only found what I could through the web site.
Then, on July 14th, it was released. I saw it that Saturday night with my sister, my best friend and his girlfriend. I remember the trepidation as we sat down. My sister and I were clinging to the arms of our chairs throughout the whole film.
Nothing had ever affected me so deeply. The last scene had me shaken. And then it came.
The end credits.
It was written and directed by…? It was written? What was written? This was footage.
I was duped. I was an idiot. I should have just read the review in its entirety. Or I should have just done some more research. But I will admit, that website was pretty convincing. And through all the promotions, not a word was said about it being faked. You would think that at this time, I would’ve reacted like I did when I found out there was no Santa Claus (that’s another story for another day).
But, this film still haunted me. I not only had nightmares, I had sleep deprivation from seeing haunting images for weeks–I couldn’t shut my eyes. The first night I got back from vacation, the day before I had to work–I amassed one whole hour of sleep. It was the single most embarrassing thing to go into my parents’ bedroom and ask if I could sleep on their floor, just to fall asleep. Actually, it was just one of many hundreds of embarrassing moments in my life. But it was noteworthy!
I couldn’t believe how stupid I felt for not only being this scared by a movie, but being scared by a movie that pretty much tells you at the end that it’s fake! That’s like a magician allowing the two bodies to jump out of the “cut” casket, and prance around in front of you–and you still leave going, “I can’t believe he cut that girl in half!”
The feelings that I had for this movie were shared by only the people that saw it that weekend, it seemed. Once the movie got the big release, it was everyone’s job to destroy it. Everyone started to hate it. I was defending it, saying it was the most terrifying movie experience I’ve ever had. Most people just complained about the headaches they got afterward.
The movie, of course, destroyed the box office, making quite a nice mint for Artisan, and the directors (though I hear the actors got a bit…snubbed). The fallout wasn’t so great for the actors, either. They couldn’t get roles because of the fact that this movie made them icons. They were typecast without even having a type–and they weren’t supposed to be cast! The directors seemed to be fat with contentment over this film’s success that they didn’t even see through their “trilogy”, and handed the sequel off to someone else to direct.
And of course now, the movie just seems forgotten. Maybe it gets a mention here and there, and some people my age or a bit younger will still tell you how much it scared them or whatnot. But the fact is, what killed this movie was selling out. This movie could not be made now. There’s too much leakage on the internet, and there is almost no way to keep a secret in Hollywood anymore. Even the most confidential scripts seem to make it out somehow.
But, even in 1999, there were ways of finding this movie out. There just weren’t as many. If this film came out in 1989, I think it probably would have had an even better chance of duping people for a while longer. It could have been closer to what “Cannibal Holocaust” did.
Instead, we have a movie that, unless you bury it for a while and don’t think about it, really doesn’t leave resonance. If you know it’s fake now, and know all about the actors and what not, can you really dive into it with innocent eyes and believe what you’re seeing?
And that’s really what determines whether this is a good film or not, and it’s something the filmmakers should have considered. In their hastiness, I think they forgot to actually make a movie. There are still scenes that are amazingly well done, and I still love the “confession” scene, and the last scene is still breathtakingly sad and scary at the same time. But I don’t think this will go down as a classic horror film, because it’s incomplete as a horror film. The film itself does not set itself up except for the line, “One year later their footage was found.” We already know this isn’t footage, so I would think the first hour of the movie is just boring to a lot of people who don’t know (or care about) the backstory. And do we expect future generations, when they want to watch this film, to go to the web site to psych themselves out, watch “Curse of the Blair Witch” and then put on this film to watch? Too many accessories.
It’s really a shame. I will never forget how scared I was by this film; and I will never forgive myself for being so deceived. That was almost scarier than the movie itself.
…and yet, in some way…the damn thing still haunts me.