Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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the blair witch projectBeth’s Review: This is a very well-known movie, frequently referenced and parodied since 1999, but I personally think this film was worth the hype.

The Blair Witch Project also is of local interest to us, because one of the directors, Dan Myrick, is from Sarasota.

If you don’t already know the story, three film students, Josh, Mike, and team leader, Heather, set out to Burkittsville, Maryland, in order to shoot a documentary about the Blair Witch, a local legend which haunts the forests. Predictably, the trio get lost, tensions rise, and an unseen presence stalks them from the shadows.

The Blair Witch Project is by no means frightening, rather it is anxiety inducing. Throughout the movie the characters are arguing, screaming, and jostling the camera. All of which contribute to the general feeling of uneasiness, especially if, like me, you are tormented by strife. What I found most interesting about this film, however, is the treatment of our hero, Heather.

She is the director of the film, giving orders, and fearlessly leading Josh and Mike on their ghost hunt. Granted, throughout the course of the film, Heather is punished for her great confidence, but it occurs in a way that is not obviously gendered. By the end of the film, the boys on her team are more desperate and hysterical than she is, and she is portrayed with minimal sexualization (quite a feat for the horror genre).

It has been said the film reflects the male director’s fears of a woman in authority, an incredibly valid criticism. However, upon my viewing, I was able to see Heather as a tragic hero, who earns this viewer’s empathy by making a relatable human error, and suffering undue consequences for it. I would say The Blair Witch Project is definitely an interesting film, and could even be classified as “Accidentally Feminist”.

Andrew’s Review: With filmmaking, less is often more. Hollywood blockbusters that brim with huge budgets and glitzy production assets often lose sight of what is arguably the most important element of a movie, storytelling. An obvious example might be the Hays code films of the 30s and later which labored under onerous technical and narrative restrictions. The films of this era found clever and compelling ways to tell stories that hadn’t been tried before, creating exciting forms of film art. Simply put, it is often the more uncomplicated films which we find the most engaging, and that is certainly true of found-footage masterpiece The Blair Witch Project.

Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard are all student filmmakers embarking on a cinematic expedition to the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland. Heather, arguably the most ambitious of the trio, hopes to produce a documentary that will unravel the local mystery of the Blair Witch. It doesn’t take long for confidence and bravado to dissipate as the party becomes hopelessly lost. With the days passing by and the sinister forces of the Black Hills seemingly closing in, the final video record of their trip serves as a witness to terror.

The Blair Witch Project makes liberal use of found-footage, a technique in which a fictional film is presented as recovered footage of an actual event. Although earlier films had explored found-footage style filmmaking, Blair Witch is arguably the first to bring it to the attention of mainstream audiences. Shot with a purposely rough, unfinished appearance, the movie purports to be the recovered footage of four real students discovered a year after their tragic disappearance. Bereft of the budget and schlocky gimmicks typical of more mainstream horror offerings, this exercise in frugality shines. Its very strength lies in its bargain basement visuals, lending an air of authenticity that eludes more heavily produced titles. This is a film that lets the audience ruminate on what lies in the darkness, and that can be far more terrifying than any Hollywood monster. (As a sidenote, it should be mentioned that a reboot was released in 2016, but in the opinion of this reviewer, it should probably be avoided.)

Looking for a horror movie that can elicit actual dread? Look no further.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Blair Witch Project.

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