Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Nominee #5 - The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Three students venture deep into a forest to investigate the famous Blair Witch legend for a documentary.
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Writers: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
The Blair Witch Project (1999), through brilliant marketing and a perfect understanding of the power of found-footage filmmaking has become a horror favourite since its release. Despite receiving its share of criticism, over the years its gained a following becoming a beloved cult classic that’s inspired and terrified for years.
The Blair Witch Project was a bold film to make. Shot entirely with handheld cameras and with a main cast of three, The Blair Witch Project could have gone horribly wrong. Its directors, Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick, however, understood exactly how to effectively build the legend of the Blair Witch and much of that work involved intelligent marketing. From missing posters to websites, The Blair Witch Project was marketed as a genuine incident and audiences bought it, and from a budget of a mere $60,000 the film grossed $248.6 million. The marketing can however only do so much. At the end of the day, the film has to deliver. The Blair Witch Project does.
From the very first nausea inducing shots, the film feels genuine - despite knowing it is a work of fiction, the film feels brutally authentic.
The film follows a group of three students shooting a documentary about the popular legend of the Blair Witch. After interviewing townsfolk, they venture into the woods in an attempt to capture more conclusive evidence that either proves or disproves the legend. The camera work is amateur, there is rarely a steady shot and the framing and zooms are absurd, and that’s precisely what makes the film effective. From the very first nausea inducing shots, the film feels genuine - despite knowing it is a work of fiction, the film feels brutally authentic. As we follow these characters, as things start to go wrong, as they begin to understand what they’ve gotten into, the shots become chaotic, often frantic blurs across dimly lit surroundings, in fact there are entire sequences of complete darkness and it's these moments that get under your skin. You feel the panic, the terror and helplessness the characters feel.
Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C Williams (who play characters of the same names, adding to the authenticity) carry the film with outstanding performances, conveying panic and fear perfectly. They never seem to be acting, every moment feels genuine and the fear and confusion they experience as certain discoveries are made through the course of the film, feel real.
The most effective horror films use the fear of the unknown and unseen as their greatest weapons. The Blair Witch Project does this perfectly and is perhaps why it stands above most found-footage horror films. The Blair Witch Project understood the most terrifying creations are crafted in the audience’s imagination and sometimes the most profound and disturbing presences are unseen.
The Blair Witch Project is an unsettling film. There are questions we never truly find the answers to, in fact much of the film is left for the audience to work out, and there is no simple answer. The Blair Witch Project leaves you thinking and feeling very disturbed. The Blair Witch Project is a terrifying and unnerving experience powered by three strong performances and a unique style that lives up to this day.