Blair Witch Project, The

Reviewed By Skye
Posted 08/10/99 10:38:12

"Memo to Hollywood: Learn, guys."
5 stars (Awesome)

No gore. No MTV soundtrack. No hockey-masked psycho skewering oversexed teens. No Jennifer Love Hewitt. Just sticks and stones, creepy sounds, and a steadily mounting fear that will ring truer and leave you more shaken than any ten slasher flicks put together.

You all know the premise of The Blair Witch Project by now: Three film students, Heather, Josh, and Mike, hike into the woods to shoot a documentary on a legendary local witch and never return. The movie purports to be their footage, discovered a year later. Watching this footage, we see that the project begins well enough, but then starts to go wrong. The filmmakers lose their map. They lose their way. They lose it on each other. They run out of food. Worse, they hear strange noises at night, and wake up in the morning to find disquieting objects placed around their campsite. They begin to fear nightfall and the dark woods. Something is going on out there, and it is not the Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Not exactly your standard horror movie stuff these days. So why does it work? Because it's believable. Let's face it, most of us aren't likely ever to meet a chainsaw-wielding maniac, have our head squeezed until our eyeballs pop out, suffer demonic possession, or get harpooned (literally, anyway) during sex. Highly specialized and improbable fears like these are nearly impossible to relate to on a primal level. But who's never been afraid of strange sounds in the dark? Or walked in the woods and wondered who - or what - may be watching? Who wouldn't be afraid to be cold, hungry, tired and lost? Because we can empathize with their situation (and because some good acting makes them likeable), we come to care about Heather, Josh and Mike. As a result, the film's final shot (which is permanently burned into my mind's eye) packs an emotional as well as a visceral wallop that will leave you shaken indeed. And by the way, the critics who found the ending "muddled" and "confused" obviously weren't paying attention to the earlier scenes.

The Blair Witch Project is a rarity: a truly frightening horror movie. As such, it is a long overdue spit in the eye of an industry that has become content to throw a few gallons of fake blood and some rubber guts at us and then ask, "Wasn't that SCARY?" (No, it was just disgusting. Give me my money back.) It was a perversely wonderful feeling to be so scared by a movie. But even better was being able to leave the theater not feeling like my intelligence had been insulted. These days, people like Jan (The Haunting) deBont make films geared toward an audience they assume to be every bit as stupid and unimaginative as they are themselves. It is both refreshing and reassuring to discover that there are people like Dan Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez who are willing to give us more credit than that.

I had to sleep with a light on - and I couldn't be happier about it.

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