MOTHERFUCKING HELL YES.
We have arrived.
Finally, I get to talk about why I like found footage movies. Blair Witch is the first big hit of the genre and it really is a textbook example of found footage done right, with the exception of one glaring issue that I’ll get to later. NOBODY expected the Blair Witch inquisition. Horror movies at the time were kind of loud and dumb and obvious, even the good ones (which were more smart and loud and obvious). You always saw the monster, you always had a sweeping soundtrack to indicate when something was scary, and you always knew it wasn’t real. Blair Witch fucked all of that.
If by some miracle you have no idea what this movie is, let me take you back on a journey to 1999, a time when you could party like it was. Three grungy teen filmmakers head to Burkittsville, Maryland, to film a documentary about the ghost of a woman known as the Blair Witch who had been executed for witchcraft in 1785. The movie begins by stating that the three filmmakers are all missing and that the documentary footage you are about to watch is all they had to indicate what may have become of them, and they found it in the woods. The footage. That’s where they found it. That’s where they found the footage. The found footage.
First we see a bit of what their documentary was meant to be, interviews with the locals about the legend and their experiences of any paranormal activity in the woods. We learn that there was one dude who claimed to have been possessed by the witch – he lived in the woods as a hermit in the 40s and kidnapped and killed children in pairs in his basement, making one stand in the corner facing the wall while he killed the other. Later he would tell the police that a witch made him do it because IT’S ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT, ISN’T IT.
Then Teen 1, Teen 2, and Teen 3 all wander out into the woods to try to get some footage of the ghost witch. They hike around filming establishing shots and Teen 1 does some dramatic introductions of various important locations, like a rock where a shitload of men were ritualistically murdered in the 19th century. Then they walk not nearly far enough away from fucking Murder Rock and they camp. The next day they walk deeper in the woods despite not being super clear on where the fuck they’re going, BUT I BET YOU KNOW WHERE THIS IS GOING. They find more creepy shit and camp again. Then they try to hike back to the car.
BUT OH NO THEY ARE LOOOOOOOOOOOOST.
And here we have an hour of The Teens bickering about who should have the map and where they should go, interspersed with creepy shit. And don’t get me wrong, the creepy shit is creepy. What starts as weird noises in the dark becomes cairns popping up outside their tent in the middle of the night and headless stick figures hanging from trees (as in figures literally made of sticks, not just drawings done by people who love to tell you how dumb and easy drawing is because they never went to art school and got raked over the fucking coals because their color theory isn’t perfect BECAUSE DRAWING IS ACTUALLY HARD. Moving on). Teen 1 is being a real bitch about taking control of the map and she’s freaking out the most. Teen 2 is grumpy, but Teen 3 gets so pissed at Teen 1 that he kicks the map into the river. Teens 1 and 2 lose their shit with Teen 3. All three Teens, furious at each other, hike in circles for several days in the creepy creepy woods, finding nothing but stick people and the disembodied laughter of children. Until one night…..when Teen 2 goes fucking missing.
This is where I’ll stop in case people haven’t actually seen this movie, because it is definitely worth seeing. But, just to get it out of the way, here are the two reasons it’s not worth seeing. One is….arguing teenagers. Like holy shit arguing teenagers forever. The creepy shit parts are pretty delicately sprinkled into the film, which is cool and means that you’re not being hit over the head by murder ghosts, but it also means that a lot of screen time is opened up to teenagers being lost and having teen feelings. There’s a lot of that. A LOT OF THAT. TOO MUCH OF THAT. Part of what makes a good found footage film work is the inclusion of footage that might not really directly connect to the plot, because the idea is that this is just when Joe Shmo turned the camera on and Joe Shmo doesn’t know where all this is going, so interspersed with foreshadowing and plot points is just some random shit, which adds to the realism. But holy fuck, when half of your movie is pissy teens being lost, it makes it hard for me to want to keep going.
My other problem with this film is also what makes it so special: the camera work. Documentary-style horror wasn’t a thing until Blair Witch, so the fact that we are watching handheld camera work was really pretty brand-new and cool at the time. But goddamn. The shaky cam. THE SHAKY CAM. The footage was literally shot by the actors on handheld cameras, so when the actors are trampling around the woods or running in the dark, you get tons and tons of shaky shaky dark trees. So many trees. So very many shitty footage of shaky, dark trees. Again, some of this is good. Found footage depends on believing that the film was not shot by a cameraman with a dolly and a sound studio. To a certain extent it does have to look like it’s handheld, which means some shakiness and some focusing on random things in the environment is good because that’s what happens when you have a camera in your hand and you don’t super give a shit. But jesus fuck is this physically hard to watch at times. When Blair Witch was released, a lot of people experienced motion sickness from the camera work, and a few even vomited in the theaters. Which, on the one hand, isn’t that what every horror movie hopes for? But on the other hand, not like that.
What makes this film so cool is the whole rest of it. It was the first horror movie to fully take advantage of the internet and it’s still what a lot of people go to when they think of viral marketing. They put up fake police reports and interviews about the missing Teens and even the IMDB page listed the actors as “missing, presumed dead.” The production team did everything they could to convince people that Blair Witch was a real documentary before they went into the theaters, and it worked. And everything in the film itself worked towards that goal as well. Blair Witch kept everything small and realistic – no theatrical score, no footage of the monster, no cameraman, no lighting, barely any script. If three real teens got lost in the woods with nothing but a camera, this is about what it would look like. And that level of realism is what makes even the tiniest indication of something creepy going on truly terrifying.
I could go on, but I’m sick of having to write an actual review of a good movie because that’s not what I’m goddamn here for so on that note……..FOUR POINT SEVEN FIVE HORRORS.
I can’t give it five, because fucking trees and teens, but Blair Witch really is a big deal and it, shall we say….SHOOK THINGS UP in the horror genre??? GET IT? BECAUSE THE FUCKING SHAKY TREES. It established a genre that would later be refined in films like Paranormal Activity (which I believe to be far superior to Blair Witch and fuck you, horror purists, you can take your fucking Real Opinions based on Film School and Pretentious Bullshit and you can get right on outta here with that nonsense and go make an actually good blog informed by facts and knowledge. NOT HERE. THIS IS MY HOUSE) and it did a really good job of it. I’ve actually kind of convinced myself to rewatch it just by writing this review…
But goddamn though.