CAMPY FEARS OR FEAR OF CAMP­ING?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - INTERSECTION - BY ALI­SON GILL­MOR

dread brought about by the char­ac­ters’ in­creas­ing dis­ori­en­ta­tion, des­per­a­tion and ex­haus­tion. In what has now be­come a hope­lessly overused trope, these feel­ings are re­flected by the wobbly, aim­less cam­er­a­work, which in­cludes an in­creas­ing amount of forest­floor footage as things go south.

The film is of­ten bor­ing, as many haters sug­gest, but in a truly ag­o­niz­ing way, as its de­fend­ers will point out. The anx­i­ety of the un­known ac­tors feels au­then­tic, maybe be­cause the film­mak­ers sub­jected them to a per­verse kind of Method-act­ing sadism. The di­rec­tors, Daniel Myrick and Ed­uardo Sanchez, got Heather Don­ahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard (also the char­ac­ters’ names) to wan­der around Mary­land’s Seneca Creek State Park for days with­out much food or sleep, with no clear idea of what they were sup­posed to be do­ing. The di­rec­tors, mean­while, lurked in the dark at night, oc­ca­sion­ally men­ac­ing the cast with sud­den in­ex­pli­ca­ble noises.

Heather, Mike and Josh ba­si­cally filmed them­selves fall­ing apart. The char­ac­ters are trapped in the woods, slowly sink­ing un­der forces they can­not see or pre­dict. So are the ac­tors.

“We’re mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary,” Heather in­sists, as a way of main­tain­ing con­trol. “Not about us get­ting lost,” Mike re­torts. “We’re mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about a witch.” Yeah, sorry, Mike, you are to­tally mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about get­ting lost, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. By the time the trio has walked in cir­cles for 15 hours straight, malev­o­lent su­per­nat­u­ral forces feel al­most be­side the point.

By con­ven­tional stan­dards, the scares are skimpy. Wher­es­the­jump. com, a web­site sin­gu­larly de­voted to list­ing all the jump-scares in re­cent hor­ror films, lists no jump-scares for The Blair Witch Project, for an over­all “jump-scare score” of zero. The Hon­est Trailer for The Blair Witch Project de­scribes it as “a film that com­bines the pulse-pound­ing ex­cite­ment of back­pack­ing in Mary­land with the breath­tak­ing sus­pense of ama­teur film pro­duc­tion lo­gis­tics,” while Ev­ery­thing Wrong with The Blair Witch Project, an­other video short, jokes about its com­plete ba­nal­ity: “No­body will be seated dur­ing the ‘gang goes to get gro­ceries’ scene.”

Many hor­ror fans who come to the movie years after its re­lease don’t find it scary, partly be­cause it has since spawned so many im­i­ta­tors — mostly bad — and hatched so many clichés. Back in 1999, how­ever, that shaky­cam, found-footage ap­proach felt raw and real and new.

Also new and in­no­va­tive was the movie’s vi­ral In­ter­net cam­paign, which claimed to be search­ing for three stu­dent film­mak­ers, “miss­ing and pre­sumed dead,” again at a time when no one re­ally knew what a vi­ral cam­paign was. Many view­ers went in to the movie — and even came out at the end — un­sure about whether or not the events de­picted had re­ally hap­pened.

That’s the thing about The Blair Witch Project, 17 years on and with a new in­stal­ment com­ing out: Heather’s “scary flash­light face” — you know the scene I mean — may have be­come a bit of a comic cliché, but for me it still con­jures up a down-deep sense of pri­mal fear.

AR­TI­SAN EN­TER­TAIN­MENT / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

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