Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: The Blair Witch Project

Was it hubris? The Tarantino Syndrome? It landed the makers of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT on the cover of TIME magazine this week: The new geniuses of the Cinemá!

It is a supreme example of capitalism at it’s finest. BLAIR WITCH is the little film that could. Who knew that an itty-bitty movie shot on home video could rake in millions of bucks? It is the work of grand irony that it was released so close to the Hollywood special effects horror extravaganza THE HAUNTING. Both are successful at the box office, but BLAIR WITCH has a bigger ratio between profits vs. expenses so it will end up making more money for the people who invested in it.

But the theme we want to explore here today is: Would THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT have been more successful as a colossal hoax? Is the movie good enough to have been believable?

The movie was made by some members of a collective filmmakers coalition in Florida called Haxlan Films who make their money primarily through commercials and corporate videos. Ugh. Who wants to make corporate videos for their entire career? Boring! So, they also decided to make ultra-cheapo independent movies, BLAIR WITCH being their first stab at one.

The film seen in theaters today is not the film that was originally planned. Originally, it was going to be a mock-TV show along the lines of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. The “found” video and 16mm footage of the three lost “filmmakers” was only going to be sprinkled throughout a fake TV special exploring the legend of the Blair Witch. Actually, in the beginning, the real filmmakers weren’t even going to shoot any of the movie on video. That only came about when a non-Haxlan producer told them that video might be a good idea.

So, the filmmakers did shoot the entire mock-UNSOLVED MYSTERIES version of the movie, but then scrapped it in favor for just using the “found” footage. Thank God they did because their original idea sounds like a total piece of shit.

But how do I know all this? Because the filmmakers blabbed the whole story to FILMMAKER magazine when the movie was screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It’s my belief they should have kept their mouth shut. Screw making millions of dollars. Screw the filmmakers making a name for themselves. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT would have been an awesome hoax.

When I read about the movie in FILMMAKER it sounded interesting and I remembered making a mental note to keep an eye out for it in case it ever got released. Next thing I know a couple months later it’s one of the biggest films in the country. And what sharply killed the movie for me was the intense hype. I knew it couldn’t be as scary as it was being touted. Some people find it terrifying, but horror is such a subjective thing. It’s as individual sensitive as comedy. A person either finds a thing scary or he doesn’t. Some people are terrified of rollercoasters, others aren’t affected by them one bit.

I could only appreciate the film as an interesting experiment. It’s kind of a funny reversal. Though the movie was shot realistically, since I knew it was a put-on there wasn’t one second that I bought any of it as being real. Yet, if it was shot as a standard fictional film that didn’t make any pretense of being true, I think I would have bought into its fictional “reality” and found it more realistic and scary. Instead, I couldn’t view the movie without continually analyzing it on a purely technical level.

But the point is relatively moot since they got my seven bucks out of me and I paid for it whether it was real or not. So, good luck to little Haxlan Films. At least they did try to do something a little bit different and hopefully they’ll try to do something equally interesting for their next project.