Blu-ray Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Now Available to Own

Although The Blair Witch would be financially usurped by the creatively challenged, all-too-familiar indie mockumentary box office titan Paranormal Activity roughly a decade later, Blair nonetheless remains not only vastly superior to the genre spin-off Activity but also stands as an incredibly potent piece of filmmaking regardless of how much time has passed.

The devilishly ingenious product of movie masterminds with an admittedly slight sadistic streak, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s pseudo-documentary Blair Witch Project was nearly a cult classic by the time it opened theatrically, having been catapulted by a tremendously successful yet deceptive new media marketing campaign that attracted technically savvy Napster era, chat room devoted viewers via online advertising.

Arousing the “true crime” solver in all of us complete with the urban legend appeal, Project’s stealthy marketers led us to believe that what we were going to be watching was a bona fide documentary comprised of a treasure trove of shocking left behind footage from a student film crew whose school project took a deadly turn in the Maryland woods.

A risky stunt that paid off hundreds of millions times over, Blair proved that as long as you had a compelling plot on your side, viewers are more than willing to overlook the unprofessional, shaky camera work that caused both queasy stomachs and seasick inspired nausea along with a full screen retro square TV sized presentation in order to try and figure out just what happened to a trio of college students.

Setting off to research a local folkloric legend known as the eponymous “Blair Witch” who was rumored to have murdered townspeople and children, headstrong director Heather (Heather Donahue) teams up with her cameraman friend Josh (Joshua Leonard) and his soundman acquaintance Mike (Michael C. Williams) as they begin interviewing residents (planted actors) before ultimately hiking deep into Burkittsville, Maryland’s Black Hills to investigate the witch’s purported stomping ground.

While initially the trio squabble amongst themselves while growing increasingly lost and disoriented, it’s only a matter of time before they realize that instead of just local pranksters, they’re actually being hunted when the sounds of screaming wake them up in the middle of the night and strange rock formations appear outside their tent.

The result is an absolutely compelling and terrifying eighty-two minutes, even after you discover that, much like the cast of characters, the audience has also been fooled by the filmmakers who were toying with the emotions of their actors by setting them up to improvise from a more primal level as the shoot continued.

And while it does make you question exactly how ethical the experience was for the three performers we’re viewing especially after reading some of the behind-the-scenes accounts, ultimately it’s a double edged sword all around since, without the maximum level of authenticity in the obstacles the trio face, the filmmakers may have shown their hand to us much too quickly, causing their bluff to fail.

Due to the bare-bones production values of the largely sixteen millimeter handheld camera visuals and rudimentary sound, the technical elements aren’t all that improved in Lionsgate’s high definition upgrade of the full screen work which was perhaps always meant for home video. Thus, you definitely don’t need to sell your DVD to convert to Blu-ray since you won’t be experiencing anything earth-shattering.

Nonetheless, it’s a competent transfer of the film that still manages to frighten us nearly as much as it did back in ’99 and indeed continues to earn our affection as time goes by since more than gore, special effects, or mood music, Blair Witch reminds us that much like a campfire story, what we fear most is fear itself personified.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.