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‘The Blair Witch Project’ – seeing is believing, but hearing is much more persuasive

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The Blair Witch Project
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Written by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
1989, USA

Three film students go out to Burkittsville, MD to make a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. Heather (Heather Donahue) is the director, and accompanying her on the trip is cameraman Josh (Joshua Leonard) and Mike (Michael Williams) does the sound. As they go about asking the locals about the witch they get a tip about the cemetery up in the hills where the seven children who disappeared after outing Elly Kedward as a witch are supposedly buried.

Once on the trail Heather, Mike and Josh soon find the cemetery after a brief detour from Heather’s map and are ready to call it quits for the weekend after getting the footage.  With the supplies finished after only three days, food is short and tempers are short. Tensions soon rise when they get lost again trying to find their way back to the car. The map is lost and something is stirring outside of their tent at night. Despite the initial conclusion that their fears were just hysteria, it becomes clear that someone is following them after they awaken one morning to find their campsite altered. Three stones markers, fashioned the same way as the seven piles found at the cemetery.

Already unsettled, the crew begins to start losing their nerve and eventually their minds as Josh disappears. The imagination is a powerful weapon, only heightened by the footage of local townspeople sharing legends of child murderers and crazed hermits in the woods. Not every tale shared with the three filmmakers in the opening of the film is spine-tingling, but as the situation degrades, we are primed to believe them.

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Shot in faux documentary style and made believable by the improvisational performances by the three leads Blair Witch Project is for my money one of the best horror films in recent history. The woods in that part of Maryland are beautiful in fall, but directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick take great care to make them uninviting. The stick figures that hang from the nearby trees don’t cost a lot to make, but they pack a wallop in creating ominous dread.

Seeing is believing, but hearing is much more persuasive when it comes to horror films. The nights in the Burkittsville woods are marked by odd howls and scratches. Heather keeps up a brave act in face of the unraveling documentary, but she knows what any child afraid of the dark knows: what you don’t see is infinitely more horrifying.


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