A backlash against the initially praised The Blair Witch Project (1999) arose in horror fandom. This is because t he film's "stylized cheapness" was too easily imitated & too easily lambpooned, so it's whole approach to low-budget horror is by now a cliche.
Blair Witch should've been one-of-a-kind, then it would never have come to seem cliche. The film got it's real start at the Sundance festival, notoriously not among horror fans.
That cinema's cognescenti thought it was great is the only reason it didn't end up a direct-to-video cheapy. Fact is, anyone who is honest, anyone who saw it before every scene had been studied & discussed to death, it was a deeply disturbing film.
I've been a lifelong horror fan & there's very nearly nothing that gets to me anymore. I have to keep up my interest in horror movies for other reasons than getting seriously frightened. But I came out of Blair Witch feeling seriously creeped out, & it reminded me of the feeling I used to get before I became jaded by the recurring cliches of everything cinema can offer.
More commonly, the most I can hope for is to be awed or amused or made to "jump" by some jack-in-the-box effect -- or feel all slimy & icky because a film's morality lapsed into okay-to-shred-children-onscreen or got a little too realistic with a rape scene. But scared? Not since I was a kid & wasn't so sure of where the border stood between reality from fantasy.
I was really glad I saw Blair Witch Project in a crowded theater with lots of people, as if I'd been watching it on video at home in the dark I might've shit my pants. It was at the very least a very disturbing legitamately mysterious conclusion, artful, convincing, with just the right amounts of information left out & put in.
I could also see why some people thought it must be true. The major & minor actors were all superb at conveying the possibility they were ordinary folks in the midst of their actual lives rather than actors working mostly from a script.
It's lasting historical significance is that it's the first notable supernatural horror film that is in the style of cinema verite -- a naturalist technique that imitates documentary & appears to be unedited though a careful viewer knows this naturalness is clever illusion.
It was not literally the first horror film to do this, as it was predated by , Night of the Living Dead (1968) The Legend of Boggy Creek (1977), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), & The Last Broadcast (1998) which the makers of Blair Witch almost certainly copied. And the style has been used for a few nonsupernatural horror films, notably Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) & Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986).
But cinema verite horror was never a conscious "type" until Blair Witch, opening a floodgate of influence if not outright imitation, in such "horromentaries" as In the Dark (2004), Incident at Loch Ness (2004), Diary of the Dead (2007), Cloverfield (2008), ad infinitum.
If you're up on art cinema from the 1950s on, from hard-hitting crime tales to such naturalistic tales of innocence as Little Fugitive (1954), to the unscripted action film by Jean-Luc Godard Breathless (A Bout de souffle, 1960), then the form adapted for Blair Witch Project is recognizable & easy to access.
But if all someone's watched is commercial film fiction, then one might not know the full range of possibilities in cinematic method, & as a viewer may well lack the tools to comprehend the conventions of the form.
Unsophisticated viewers rarely like cinema verite at first, because they're too rarely exposed to it to have a clue what's going on. It takes at least a small level of patience & sophistication to appreciate.
The pay-off of a film can be mighty if you have those two qualities. It's just some wobbly camera work for an amateur docudrama if the viewer lacks patience & sophistication.
That said, Blair Witch is not on my list of films I am happy periodically to see again & again. I've experienced its surprises & cannot be surprised again. It's overall structure is admittedly a little tedious, & the films I see repeatedly don't require patience. They grab me every minute, every time.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl