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Creepy, Not Scary
A review of The Blair Witch Project
by J. D. Rummel

If only I could have seen this film before the hype blew all chances for it. Don't mistake what I'm saying here, The Blair Witch Project is a nice piece of work and worth the price of admission, but I started reading comments from early viewers that dropped superlatives like rain in the monsoon season. As a smart, cheap film it is a triumph. As a fright fest, it is only marginally successful. To win in that arena, the audience must believe that something is going on. I never did. The film is creepy to be sure, but I was never frightened.

Director: Daniel Myrick And Eduardo Sanchez II

Stars: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard, Bob Griffith, Jim King, Sandra Sanchez, Ed Swanson, Patricia Decou

Rating: R

Release: 07-14-1999

Time: 80 minutes

Buy Movie at Amazon.com The best part of the Internet Age is also the worst part: Too much info about this film got to me too fast. When I was an ignorant kid, my friends and I would have been terrified by this film's attempts at being a true story. We'd have wanted to believe, but, as an old, jaded man, I knew from the git-go that this was just a sham. That is the film's greatest strength: IF YOU BELIEVE IT--it's a hammer strike. If you don't believe it, then you need to enjoy the film on its other merits--which are significant.

For the two or three of you that don't know, Project pretends to be assembled documentary footage of three young filmmakers who, back in 1994, go into the woods in search of material on the Blair witch legend. The real filmmakers here do a first rate job of laying the ground work for the spooky goings-on that follow. The three stars are glib, and snicker appropriately as they ask the locals about the history of the woods. The three film every move they each make, and you may find the hand-held "unsteady cam" to be hard on the internals.

Eventually the three trek into the gray, deciduous timberland and before long they are lost and hearing lots of weird noises outside their camp. No matter what they do, they cannot march out. The compass and map do the trio no good, they cannot seem to get out of the woods and as food runs out they find eerie stick figures and piles of rocks where they should not be. Someone is with them.

With no CGI gimmickry, BWP does a superb job of making us look at all those things we most innately fear: the dark, the woods, common noises out of context and sounds where there should be none. Rather than overwhelm the audience with clear views of statues come to life in Dolby sound, we must sit and strain to hear and see what is out there in the darkness. Nothing can be as horrible as what we imagine is in the bedroom closet.

The three principals give excellent, thoroughly real performances. You will recognize them as people you have spent time with. The dialog, mostly improvised, (which is riddled with the f-word--I was stunned that parents had brought small children to the theater) is completely you-and-me-in-the-woods-and-something-weird-is-happening. There is no scriptwriter raising insightful ironies as we urbanely banter.

A lot of people will be like me--disappointed after they view this film, but it will still succeed. There will almost certainly be a sequel, because this film will make a mint. Hell, it cost $30,000, which is lunch money in Hollywood dollars, so it will doubtless be the most successful film of the summer, even if it only makes a quarter of what Wild Wild West does. How that sequel is made will test the ingenuity of the true filmmakers, who have done a remarkable job here.