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The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 10/10

Set in the quaint Maryland town of Burkittsville deep within its foreboding woods, The Blair Witch Project is a terrifying first-hand account of primordial terror that is my personal favorite horror film of all time. A visceral tale of three student filmmakers set out to create a documentary about the town’s infamous “Blair Witch,” the movie is shot in a handy-cam “home movies” style of cinematography which adds to the surrealism of the film. The opening sequences introduce the setting, characters, and lore of the eerie town’s horrifying past and grips you like a vise from that point forward.

Heather Donahue, Josh Leonard, and Michael Williams play Heather, Josh, and Mike (characters of the same names) respectively. Heather and Josh are good friends who, before they depart to Burkittsville, invite a guy their age (which is mid-twenties) named Mike to come along as he’s handy with a camera. The film begins with introductions to each of them, revealing why they’re setting out on such a task as making a documentary on the Maryland’s “Blair Witch,” and when they plan to return. Right away, we distinctively become familiar with their likeable personalities and grow a certain fondness and attachment to them, Heather proving to be the main protagonist; Josh the cool but eager-to-go friend; and Mike, the funny comic relief. Little do they know of the true nightmare that awaits them.

After the opening sequences but still early in the film, the team arrives in Burkittsville and begins to interview the townsfolk for their documentary. The people Heather, Josh, and Mike interview seem like normal folk, but each of them has an aura of displacement around them when the camera’s rolling and they’re talking into it; an aura of fear. When the team mentions the name of the Blair Witch, people don’t seem to want too talk much. However, Heather and her companions still manage to get some useful information from the folk for their footage. The Blair Witch, as it turns out, was a real women that lived long ago in the 1800’s, condemned for practicing witch-craft. She was exiled from the town—back then known as Blair—forced out of her home and into the deep, unforgiving woods…in the dead of winter. Her name was Ellie Kedward.

The lore of Ellie Kedward and her story is deeper still than that and has many sub-stories of its own, such as the story of the Blair Witch Cult that formed in the 60’s that allegedly came into the woods to meet and perform demonic rituals, and the story of Rustin Parr, the crazed hermit who, at one point in the town’s grim history, lived in the woods. One night, the local urban legend goes, he heard a grisly voice that told him to torture and kill—mutilate—seven people and drape their remains over a rock, and he did. This is perhaps the primary element of the film that makes it so remarkable: the deep, complex and mystifying lore of its dark story surrounding the Blair Witch.

The movie begins to get intense once Heather, Josh, and Mike find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods. With limited food, tired and aching bodies, and an outdated map that none of them know how to read, things between them get tense quickly and tempers begin to flare. Only does their great frustration turn into terror when one night, while all three of them are in it, their tent is attacked from the outside by an unseen force. When they calm down minutes later, they find piles of rocks, and later in the film after another similar occurrence, small figures made out of sticks, hanging in the trees around their tent. No animal could have possibly made the piles of rocks, and the team is too far into the woods for anyone from town to have followed them. It is at this point that the scariness turns into a primal terror that, while watching, feels like a stationary, insanely scary roller-coaster ride.

The Blair Witch Project’s grisly conclusion is unrelenting and one of the most memorable endings in film that will leave you gasping for air and begging for resolutions to your dozens of unanswered questions. The film’s final sequences are on a scale of realistic terror that only a few other movies in the world are on, and its ominous story and incredible climax will leave you thinking for days about what you’ve just watched.