What makes a horror movie scary? As of today, scary movies are about two things: jump out scares, and gore. Neither of which are truly scary, just uncomfortable. In fact, more often than not, you’ll always know what’s coming, be it ridiculous amounts of gore, or something popping out momentarily, you’ll just be wondering when and how. That’s the current trend of horror movies, and it seems to work with mainstream audiences. I think what makes those movies good, if those are your types of movies, is the shock itself, and the idea of suspending disbelief and knowing that you can see horrible things, and unthinkable things, and never have a doubt that it’s not only fake but totally impossible. This is where The Blair Witch Project really shines. Just to make my point, I’m going to look at Cloverfield as a comparison due to the similar camera work. Cloverfield came out during a time when almost everybody had access to the internet, and was well aware of who was making it and what it was about. Viral marketing aside, people know it was fake. But The Blair Witch Project really did something new, and virtually impossible to duplicate. It’s advertising wasn’t for a movie, but for the tape and the legends, right down to fake documentaries on the Blair Witch herself on respectable television channels like The History Channel and A&E.
More interesting is how it’s done. Popular, and perhaps overused today, the “shaky cam” really made sense then, as it was “filmed” by amateur film makers, and only two cameras, one of which was a home video camera. Because of this, you’re only exposed to what they are, so you really are experiencing exactly what they went through, only in small doses. That includes their pre-trip shopping, interviews townspeople, and a few short moments of the actual documentary they were attempting to make. The rest is what “actually” happened, and it’s execution, while hated by many people, is really something to see to believe.
Before going on, I have to state for record that I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and have never been afraid. I’ve been jumpy, or grossed out, or freaked out, or anything else that’s getting close, but no cigar in terms of being afraid. But The Blair Witch Project scared me. This really says a lot, because while some movies in the same genre are some that I love and are really impressed by, my feelings are because of the film itself, and not what it does. In The Shining, the acting is spot on, and it has amazing cinematography and sound, and it’s just a top notch film. But it’s not scary. The Blair Witch takes away all the big names, all the gore, all the jump moments, all the creepy music, all the little kid singing some eerie song, all the typical elements, and it replaces it with mystery. You never know what it is, you never see it, you always feel just slightly left behind and in the dark about everything. Maybe I’m afraid of this film because I grew up next to the woods, and I’m already pretty terrified of being in the woods. Maybe it’s my fear of getting lost. Maybe it’s my fear of not knowing. It doesn’t matter, because this movie has all those things, and then a little more.
Unfortunately, there is no way to understand how the elements of the film work without seeing it, and I’d hate to spoil anything in a review. Granted, I’m nearly ten years late in reviewing it, I still feel the same. But the entire movie has an atmosphere, and a feeling that’s so evident, and so looming, that even in the day shots you’re nervous. Because you’re seeing it through a video camera perspective, you can only feel like you’re really there. The actors don’t give a typical performance, they give a real one. There really isn’t anything “Hollywood” about the film, which may be why it wasn’t well received. But, for the sake of making a point, and trying to convince anybody that hasn’t seen this film to see it, I’m going to give a small spoiler of what I consider the most terrifying part of the movie. So, spoilers ahead. During one scene, the camera turn on and the three hikers are in their tent at night, and they’ve been woken up by some sort of noise out in the woods. It comes in layers, and seems to be all around them. More than that, there is a strange cackling, or moaning, or something that’s really very hard to describe. Then, out of nowhere, the tent begins to act as if there are people all around it pushing their hands on it, rubbing the sides up and down, very quickly. The three open the tent and run, and all the while all you can is somebody in front of the camera operator running, screaming, asking “what is that?”. End spoiler. Scenes like this that come and go between their days are so freaky, and so out of my worst nightmares, and the very reason why I don’t like camping, that it makes me glad this movie is fake. I know plenty of people that were let down that it was real, and perhaps that’s their own fault for buying into the marketing (even though that was the point), but I’m glad it’s fake. Because if it were real, I’d never go into the woods…or Maryland.