Less is more.
In the first movie to ever utilize the “handicam” approach to horror, this phrase becomes more than just a platitude for frugality.
The iconic 1999 faux shockumentary The Blair Witch Project revitalized the horror genre after the backlash against slasher films during the early to mid nineties. The plot is so simple and terrifyingly realistic.
Three wannabe whistleblowers decide to go into the woods of a small New England town and discover the truth behind its most popular folk legend: the Blair Witch. After several interviews with townspeople and a few candid scenes with the crew, the team finally ventures into the woods on their quest. This is when things go bad.
Before long the woods become all too familiar and the crew begins to get lost. Tensions run extremely high as blame is thrown around and bizarre rock piles begin forming around the perimeter of their camp. Add in the terrors of nights spent in the woods with no clear sense of home and the aroma of horror cannot be denied. What was originally a fun film project quickly turns into the search for safety, and a legend that starts to appear all too real.
Blair Witch works because it is real. The internet hype surrounding the film caused controversy, people believed that these were not actors, and that these were the last moments of an amateur filmmaking crew in way over their heads. The story is told totally from the handi-cam perspective which switches from a cheap digital to a fancy eight millimeter as the crew shoots candids or an actual scenes from their documentary.
Subtlety is queen in the film as things like the little rock altars, banging noises in the night, and bizarre stick dolls are more terrifying than any monster. And of course, a special enthusiastic nod goes to the actors in the film. Throughout their plight one doesn’t think “these are actors acting scared” every instinct screams out “these are three people lost in the woods. They are scared, angry, and terribly alone.”
One feels, pities, and fears for these three kids to an almost uncomfortable extent.
To compliment the gritty acting, the filmmaking style is also realistic and dirty. If a noise comes from behind, the camera turns and so on. Without realizing it, the audience beings to recognize the camera as a character as it passes from person to person, switching from perspective to perspective, it reveals a more personal picture of each character than any number of clean, professional close-ups.
The Blair Witch Project is the perfect modern horror film, one of my personal favorites. It shows everone, with confidence, that, to be scary, all you need is real emotion.
No big budget bloodbaths, no fantastic lighting, no unnecessary additives, just people being afraid on camera.
And that is all you really need.
It is naked, stark, and raw, just like the emotion it so beautifully captures.