Mascott’s Movie Rewind – The Blair Witch Project

Originally posted October 21st, 2010. 

I’ve been trying to avoid editorializing on these columns, but I can’t avoid it here. Know in advance that I have disavowed this particular column. Even a few days later I know I rethought a lot of the things I said and realized they were some of the dumbest opinions that a person has ever had about any movie ever. Just… just know that I was very young, and I know better now. 

the-blair-witch-project-poster

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
1999
DIRECTED BY DANIEL MYRICK & EDUARDO SANCHEZ

Did you know that Turkish prisons have Wifi? And Bluray players? This place is actually a lot nicer then people seem to think it is. Almost no one I’ve met has given me tuberculosis, and we play volleyball at three. Why I’m here is a long and and goat ridden story of misunderstandings and mistaken identity so I won’t go into the particulars, but to sum it up they think my name is Serkan, and that I was the enigmatic leader of a criminal organization that was best known for rolling back the odometers on used Yugos from 1.5 million miles to a much more attractive 1.2 million. This Serkan must have been a pretty awesome guy, because everyone has been giving me gifts and I always get the good dodgeball when we go to the gym. My cellmate, a Bulgarian man named Dragan, (who is doing six months of hard time for eating his neighbor’s wife) is a writer too! He’s been scribbling on the wall for days with some red paint that I can’t seem to find anywhere, and he seems to have quite a gift for anecdotal stories, because I see my name up on the wall a few times. I can only assume he’s writing down all the funny things I say so he can remember me after I go. Anyway, yesterday I traded a sponge, a loofah, and two soap-on-a-ropes for a copy of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT so I could do this week’s Rewind just for you.

The movie starts off with three film students heading off into the Maryland wilderness to shoot a documentary about the famous Blair Witch. There’s Heather, the on screen “talent.” (I would not hire her.) There’s Josh, the cameraman. (Also someone I would not hire.) And finally Mike, the sound guy. (Actually does a really good job, all things considered!)

They start their filming in the town, where the residents have all sorts of strange things to say about the Blair Witch. Soon after, they venture deep into the woods to film Heather being dramatic and reading from an old book. The group becomes lost, and Mike is so unhappy with this situation that he throws the map into the river, not helping much of anyone. They start finding small piles of rocks and hearing sounds outside the tent at night,  and of course they assume that it’s Swamp Folk unhappy with their presence. (What logical person wouldn’t?) But when they’re unable to find traces of Billy Bobbie-Jo and his sister cousin Mary-Lou, it slowly dawns on them that they might be up against more then just the citizens of Appalachia, but the Blair Witch herself.

You can’t deny it – BLAIR WITCH was influential as hell in the early days of the new millennium. It was quite possibly the first movie that used the internet as the driving force behind its viral marketing campaign, so at one point or another everyone had heard about how crazy this “movie” was. Until the credits pop up, you can’t be sure it isn’t real either. (It’s notSPOILERS.) It takes a page from JAWS and never shows the primary antagonist, which is due to budget concerns, most likely, and it usually works. The characters are believable, if sometimes whiny and unlikable

My main problem with this movie, I think, is really the ingredients it consists of. That is to say, there are really only about four or five “scenes” in this move, defining scene as a single coherent event, not spliced up with setting up the tent and then Mike smoking a cigarette and talking about how awesome cake is. The rest, to use an industry term, is “complete bullshit filler.” It’s an eighty minute movie, right? Let’s say sixty of those minutes are spent in the woods. Forty of those minutes are spent watching the characters simply interact with each other in the woods. You’ll get a two minute scene which is kind of awesome, and eight minutes of “Jesus Christ, we get it, they’re fucking scared.” For a while, these scenes are genuinely atmospheric and add to the movie, but after a while they’re drawn out and annoying. These segments are the right thing for this movie, but I’m just not their biggest fan.

The last thing I want to talk about with specific regards to BWP is the ending, and i’m going to try and do this without any spoilers for the benefit of the people who haven’t actually seen it. (Twenty years is the spoilter statute of limitations for non-classic movies in The Rewind.) For those of you that have seen it, you’ll understand why it’s controversial. It leaves you as a viewer absolutely clueless about the truth of the movie, but that’s the end of the movie you just watched. They did it “right.” The ending of BWP was the ending of the movie you just spent the last hour and fifteen minutes with – If you expected them to pull back the curtain or something, you probably left displeased, but you entered with the wrong idea in the first place. I mentioned the technique of not showing the antagonist – this technique is best known and often cited as being from JAWS. The difference between BWP and JAWS is that, in JAWS, they do show the shark when it becomes really important, in the final confrontation at the end of the movie. BWP doesn’t do that for a few reasons, but the main one that seems to be the one the filmmakers would never give is ”We don’t really know what happened either.” It’s too eclectic, in execution, for the filmmakers to have had any real clear idea of what was going on, or else it would have shined through in the direction. Or maybe I just think it should have. I’m kind of an asshole, did I mention that?

I’m really unsure about how I feel about “Found Footage” as a genre. It’s incredibly hit and miss. For every DISTRICT 9, there are fifteen flicks likeMONSTER. A good “found footage” movie is an exercise in restraint by the crew, most importantly the director and cameraman. CLOVERFIELD is the best example, and as far as i’m concerned is the current pinnacle of the genre. (Someone is going to have a problem with me calling CLOVERFIELD the pinnacle of anything.) The biggest concession is that it trades authenticity for watchability. Hub’s camera should not be shooting in 1080p cinematic widescreen. It shouldn’t be able to pick up sounds more than six feet away. It would break at the suggestion of a light breeze, surviving in no way even a single one of the 15 times it’s dropped. The story is revealed around the mechanic of the handheld video camera, not the other way around. It might just be the difference between a big budget movie and a no-budget movie, but in the end, CLOVERFIELD is the evolution and a much more watchable film than THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. (The two are completely different movies, and only comparable because they share the handheld camera aesthetic – And that’s me covering my ass from the genre fans.)

Favorite Part- Like I said, there are only five or six “scenes” in this movie, but I’m pretty torn between two of them. The best ones are when both of the crew’s cameras are out and being used, because it cuts between the two of them, and this becomes most evident in the final scene – but there’s also a scene in the tent with this aspect well used – the three run off into the woods after their tent is violently shaken by an unseen force, and they separate for a few minutes. It’s…hard to describe.

Best Actor – Micheal C. Williams.

He’s plays pretty much the only character in this movie that doesn’t go straight from “Happy Filmmaker” to “Oh shit” again and again. Heather Donahue does pretty well too, but she’s always in that mode, so her performances always come off as very dramatic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she was the best actor.

Most Thankful For… – the credits. Lets just say that, as a filmmaker, and as someone who lives in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, knowing that this isn’t a real story is a relief.

What Date You Should Watch This On – THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has evolved with the time to become the perfect date movie. It’s scary, but not tooscary. Just enough to get a girl close – Second date. I once burned this movie to a DVD for a friend so she could watch it with her boyfriend for his birthday. (Translation – She asked me to burn it to a DVD for her so she could give him his real birthday present with her mouth while he watched his favorite movie.)

While Watching This Movie, I… – couldn’t help but wonder what these student filmmakers hoped to achieve by shooting a black-and-white documentary in the underutilized aspect ratio of 16 by postage stamp.

While Writing This Article, I… – was sitting in the back of a Rite Aid, eating Beefaroni and drinking two Sparkling ciders straight from the bottle.

Recommend Watching? – If you want to watch THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, it’s because you want to watch the movie everyone else has seen and someone told you it was fantastic. It’s a movie that does pretty much everything right for a low budget horror film, but If it hadn’t gotten big at Sundance and taken the country by storm, repopularizing (for a time) the found footage genre, it would be just another post-CLERKS indie flick that never got distribution. It is very much a product of late-90s indie filmmaking, and it doesn’t hold up quite as well as everyone seems to imagine it has. While it’s a movie with a whole lot of problems, it’s still a pretty decent flick if you don’t let it get in the way of itself. Cautious and Nostalgic recommendations achieved.

After reading Tucker Max’s second book, Mascott has been blinded to the dangers of anonymous sex with strange women. You can email him at mascott@infamouskidd.com, or follow him on twitter at twitter.com/mascott.

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