I'm not really a big fan of horror movies, so I wanted to get a second opinion about this flick. Unfortunately, that second opinion comes from my friend Bob, and we think alike in many ways.
Bob pointed out a quotation from H.P. Lovecraft: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." That was the first problem with this movie. We both knew way too much about it before going in. There was no fear of the unknown. I'd read all about how the movie was made on the Internet and Bob saw an interview with the co-directors, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, on MTV. (Note that we are avoiding specifics so that even though the movie sucked for us, it won't suck so badly for you.)
In contrast there's Leslie, who wanted me to write: The views expressed in this review do not necessarily reflect those of Leslie, except Leslie's. Leslie, who hadn't filled up on factoids about the flick before seeing it, said about it: "I was fearful. Growing up in central Wisconsin, there were plenty of real-life horror stories. There was a chainsaw murder five miles from my house, and I've spent my share of nights in a tent with friends in the dark. There was an incestuous family that lived out west of us, and they were found dead in their house. They killed each other, or someone killed them or something. And there was a 'witch house' not too far away from my hometown, complete with a wrought-iron fence in the middle of the country. There were plenty of stories about our neighbors who lived in the grove of trees right behind my house. My favorite was the story of the old lady who lived there, falling down the stairs and picking at her bones as they stuck out. My neighbor's house was an old stone house and it was always obscured by really large old trees. It was on a short private road, so the city felt no responsibility to pave it, and it was the road I had to take to school every day. We had apple trees in our yard, and my mom thought it would be nice to give them to the old lady in the house. We were scared when we brought the apples over. The old lady's housekeeper opened the door and said, 'She doesn't like apples', and closed the door. I felt like the movie showed that it isn't a witch or a ghost that we should fear, but the mentally unstable."
So... maybe if Bob and I grew up with stories of murdering in-bred families, or chainsaw murders in Wisconsin, we would have felt differently about The Blair Witch Project.
As it were, we didn't.
We led normal (?) lives. We grew up well-adjusted. I grew up reading about how the scary monsters were guys in rubber suits. The monster drool was really corn syrup. (Leslie said: "You guys lack imagination. That movie existed to push buttons and you guys have no buttons to push. What is a "normal" life, anyway?")
So... When I read a movie review, first thing I want to know is how many stars the reviewer is giving it. So... I'd like to share that before we get into the SPOILERS. So here we go...
Bob: 3.8242/10. Why such a precise number, Bob? I didn't want to give it a 4 or higher, because it didn't deserve it. But it wasn't THAT bad, so it deserved more than 3.5. For the other significant digits, I compared it to other equally bad movies, and I took a Taylor series to come to that number. Bob notes that there's a definite "creep factor," but that's not necessarily enough to make a good movie.
Frank: 4.5/10. I didn't think it was that bad. I liked the concept (which we talk all about below in the SPOILERS), and it was cool that SOMEBODY could fill a theatre with a movie made on a budget smaller than the sum total of what we all paid in ticket prices. I liked the confessional at the end, and I liked the way Heather Donahue's character went from goofy filmmaker to tragic heroine. In one early scene, she rams the camera into a bag of marshmallows to show how soft they are. Cute. So... I liked most of parts of the movie that weren't supposed to be scary.
Frank: I have to admit that I've never been scared in a movie. Startled, yes. Scared is what happens when you're cutting up fruit in the kitchen you see the knife drop out of your hand in slow motion and twist in the air toward your bare foot. Scared is when you're driving on the highway, not paying attention and then you realize that the guy right in front of you has slammed on the brakes. This movie wasn't that scary. Directors piling up rocks and tying together sticks instead of guys in rubber suits. Same difference.
Bob: They tried to break the fourth wall here, but it didn't work (for us). Because there was too much goddamn hype. You knew it was a movie before going into it. If they had people believing it was a documentary when they went in, it would have been much more successful. The directors themselves admitted that they were trying to make a War of the Worlds-type thing. And what made War of the Worlds successful? The fact that people didn't know that it was a story - especially the schmucks who missed the first five minutes. What if War of the Worlds were produced today amid all this hype? It's a story about aliens who come to earth to kill us who die when they get scratched. Just unleash a bunch of pissed-off cats on them.
What's going to happen is that there will be a lot more of these "documentaries" come out, because they found a formula that works for at least a part of the audience. The budget is non-existent. All you have to do is give a camcorder to some of your buddies, send them off somewhere, and then follow them and scare the hell out of them. S--t, I should do that tomorrow. Just think how much fun that would be... for me.
About the stuff that's supposed to be scary... Because we know it's the directors trying to scare the actors, when we see the twigs and vines tied up and hanging from trees, we don't care. We're thinking: great idea for our next arts and crafts night. The night sequences are supposed to be scary because we hear strange noises while our "adventurous" "filmmakers" are in their cocoon of death-- I mean, 3-man tent. I've gone camping many times and all I have to say is: everything sounds strange when you're jammed in a tiny nylon tent with 2 other farting people. If it did come down to a point where I was genuinely afraid for my life and worried that "creatures" would come to take me in my sleep, I wouldn't be sleeping soundly in a tent in my sleeping bag and pajamas. I don't know about you, but I'd be shivering, fully clothed, with a weapon in one hand, a DAT in the other (okay, maybe not a DAT, maybe a camcorder) and a flashlight in my mouth. I know that our protagonists don't think so rationally (or aggressively, maybe), and so they're scared, playing the role of the victim. As the audience, we should be empathizing with them and feeling their terror...but we don't. Let's face it, we (Frank and I) don't care about them. They find this creepy old house near the end, and I have to admit, that part was creepy. Too bad the directors didn't elaborate on the activity. This part had potential, but the ending, in which the protagonists die (no spoiler there), seemed rushed. It was probably to increase the tempo and build suspense, but when you see Josh (?) standing (?) in the corner, facing the wall, and then suddenly Heather bites it, it takes a pretty attentitive movie watcher to remember the tale told at the BEGINNING of the movie. For those who don't remember (or don't want to watch it again), that tale was about a killer who liked to stick one victim in the corner, while he slaughtered another. If you watched the movie and missed this little tidbit, the ending would be partially incomprehensible (much like this review). But rest assured, one of your friends may have been more attentive and can explain the ending to you. But that's like trying to explain a joke to someone after you tell them the punchline ...it doesn't work.
Don't get me wrong. I liked the movie - sort of. It had a lot of potential. There have always been stories about creatures breaking the fourth wall (e.g., Last Action Hero). This movie was a mainstream attempt at breaking the fourth wall into the audience's universe. That hasn't been done successfully yet. When it is done successfully, it will be cool.
Agree or Disagree? Let me know.
Comments from Jonathan Harvey:
HI, Frank. Just read your Blair Witch review.
I hope its just a sign of broad-mindedness, and not of incipient split-personality, but I quite honestly find both yours and Leslie's reactions to "The Blair Witch Project" completely understandable.
The movie itself I think is a victim of overhype, and I'm sure if I'd seen it at Sundance with no advance publicity, I would have been a lot more impressed. It certainly gets an A (or 10) for originality. Ultimately, I think the film created a new genre without being a masterpiece in that genre, but that is enough to commend it.
I lived in college towns most of my 44 years, but lived in two small Mid-Western towns for 10 years from '83 to '93. I had no idea till then that there were entire communities of completely uneducated people in which all kinds of stuff that I took for granted as *common knowledge* was not known. Furthermore, there is a much larger percentage of the population there that is seriously mentally unstable in a way I would not have believed before I lived there. Everything Leslie mentions in her spiel about "Witch" rings a bell with me. I moved out there with a semi-idyllic image based on "Little House" books and the Andy Griffith show, and found a reality much more like David Lynch movies. For this reason, Leslie's reaction to "Blair Witch" is very easy for me to understand. When a movie presses the right buttons, it may do the job, even if those buttons are pressed with little flair or finesse.
From: Kara Ann Vortex [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Subject: Blair Witch Project - the overhype made me stop caring about it
Hi, I've been reading reviews from the site out of of boredom....and even though I have yet to actually see the movie...I don't think I will...I blame the overhype of course. When the hype started up it was ok because it was, well, just starting...so I got hooked (my first viewing of anything about the blair witch project I think was the sci fi channel..)...I wasn't even sure if it was a "based on real events" type movie or not...I surfed around a bit, people were claiming it was just a movie...but as the hype grew and grew I started becoming disenchanted with the ideas running amok in my head that maybe..just maybe..there was some truth to any of it or whatever... It got to the point that I thought "Ok, this is ridiculous and I don't care anymore" ...I mean, come on, an awards show, commercial parodies or some junk, and the worst..." The Scooby Doo Project " geeze...I couldn't even watch a cartoon marathon without them stupifying it with a parody of an already overhyped movie...Yeah, I know it's a cartoon and it's supposed to be funny, but I'd rather watch a marathon of the same old silly stuff I've seen of the series than a stupid extra like a parody of an overhyped movie.
Just wanted to share and rant a bit.
I went into the movie knowing almost nothing, other than my sister telling
me, "It's a really good movie that was done on no budget and it's filling
up the theaters!" I didn't really even want to see it, because it
sounded stupid. Three people lost in the woods, shaky camera footage, no
third-person views, etc. I figured it'd be really stupid, but I ended up
seeing it and during the movie I was impressed (the acting was great, because
they were actually scared at some points), but never really scared. Then I
got home and it all sunk in, and I found the memory of the movie rather creepy.
Maybe knowing nothing helps, but I think there's more to appreciating the movie
than going in blindfolded.
I can't say it's the best scary movie ever (though I found that it was my personal favorite), but it is the most believable I've seen, and there were certainly some disturbing parts that you really had to think about to understand. This did confuse some people as you've pointed out, but I think the subtle nature of the horror is what made this film so popular. Many people had no idea what half the movie meant, and that's too bad, maybe they should read more books and pay attention, but those who were observant enough usually found that the movie was quite well done. After explaining the ending to people, I've almost seen the light bulb above their head, and they all of a sudden find the film a little bit more intriguing.
Maybe you shouldn't have to explain a joke or a movie, perhaps people should be more observant, but the subtle humor that confuses half the audience at a comedy club is the same humor that makes the other half roar. I understand all points of view for this movie, but my opinion won't be changed, because subtlety is almost always better in getting a point to stick since you have to piece things together for yourself. It was an excellent horror movie, very refreshing from the norm, and I believe that with a decent imagination you can watch the movie and enjoy it. Even having seen it once in the theater, I found that the DVD was still worth buying and watching.
As for the story trying to break the fourth wall, remember that the people who made this movie weren't trying to do anything special, really. They had an idea for a class project and decided that they would do the best they had for this project. They wanted a grade and something to show potential employers, but nobody really believed it would take off.
Now I'm rambling so I'll go to bed or something.
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