While a deluge of imitators, sequels and remakes – good and bad – have diluted the novelty of The Blair Witch Project, they haven’t diluted its effect – that is, one of pure terror. Released twenty years ago, the film’s found-footage set-up lent the low-budget horror an immediacy that more polished product couldn’t touch. An ingenious viral marketing campaign built around the uncharted mysteries of an emerging internet supplemented the sense of the film as a found-object and had audiences wondering whether there was something lurking in the woods.
Grimmfest present Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project from a 35mm print as their latest screening at the ever-marvellous Stockport Plaza. For those unacquainted with this horror phenomenon – it placed at number three on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 10 Scariest Movies of All Time – it revolves around three film students who travel to Burkittsville, Maryland to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch. Interviewing locals, they’re told about a local hermit who supposedly kidnapped and murdered eight children on the orders of the witch. The students head into the woods to find out more. We’re told that the film we’re watching is the only document of their fate.
Writing at the time of release, Roger Ebert said, “At a time when digital techniques can show us almost anything, The Blair Witch Project is a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can’t see.” Now that’s something genre practitioners have known forever, but Myrick and Sánchez’s film takes the idea to the extreme, leaving hints of horror at the edges and focusing instead on the snotty, terrified faces of its characters. In forcing us to deduce the potential terrors of the world through grainily rendered expressions and dark, shaky imagery, we’re left in the hands of filmmakers who leave us perpetually on edge.