*This post contains spoilers about the film*
Overall Rating: 3.875/5 stars
The Psychopath: no score
This film lack a psychopath, so it cannot be judged in this category.
Development of Emotional Terror: 4/5 stars
Even though The Blair Witch Project doesn’t come close to being one of the scariest movies I’ve watched, the film does a quality job developing a gradual aura of anxiety, tension and fear that sneaks up on the audience. In the beginning of the film, the audience meets three young, amateur filmmakers, Heather, Mike and Josh, who set out to uncover the truth about a local legend: the Blair Witch. The trio drives to the town of Burkittsville – formerly known as Blair – and interviews townspeople about their knowledge of and connections to the Blair Witch story. Initially, the film is lighthearted and almost comedic because of the banter between the three filmmakers and the quirkiness of the townspeople they interview. The townspeople reveal what they know about the legend: the witch has a human-like body with dark hair all over, she lives in a cabin deep in the woods where two hunters went missing, and she floats above the ground and is surrounded by mist. Furthermore, another interviewee tells the filmmakers about a man who lived in the woods who kidnapped and murdered seven children. He was said to have taken the children down to the basement in pairs and made one stand facing the corner while he killed the other, and then he would murder the kid in the corner.
Initially, these accounts the townspeople gave are nothing more than ghost-stories, but the story of the Blair Witch steadily evolves from fiction into truth, as the trio comes across seven piles of rocks, which quite possibly mark the graves of the seven children who were taken and killed by the man who lived in the woods. The filmmakers’ anxiety continues to grow as they hear footstep-like noises at night and find three piles of rocks surrounding their tent in the morning. Moreover, the group’s leader, Heather, admits to her friends that she has gotten them lost in the dense woods, and Mike confesses to kicking their only map in the creek, which sparks a huge outburst of rage among the three filmmakers. The screaming and physical fighting brings focus to the immense tension that has been developing in the group. Each character has multiple breakdowns, which demonstrate the psychological and emotional deterioration of the trio. Mike repeatedly and helplessly screams “help” out into the woods; Mike and Josh crazily shout the National Anthem in efforts to distract themselves; Heather turns the camera on herself and hysterically sobs and apologizes to her mother and the mothers of Mike and Josh for getting them into this mess.
The once bubbly and optimistic group gradually unravels into three individuals pushed past the brink of insanity. Watching the trio become so broken-down is severely discomforting for the audience, making the film’s development of psychological terror successful.
Real-Life Accuracy: 4.5/5 stars
The authenticity of the story, acting, scenery and lack of editing makes the film extremely realistic. First, the film is very easy for the audience to relate to because essentially every town or area has their own “Blair Witch” type ghost story. Furthermore, the movie isn’t scripted – there is only a thirty-five-page outline – so all the dialog and interaction between the main characters is improvisational, making it appear realistic because it’s truly authentic. Specifically, there are a few times in the film when a character stumbles over their words while speaking. Unlike a normal film, these moments are kept for the final movie and aren’t re-filmed, which gives the movie a truly realistic appearance. The film is entirely shot in real woods. Every rock, every decaying log, every woosh of the stream, every crunch of twigs breaking underneath feet is real. Additionally, the lack of editing increases the film’s authenticity. There are absolutely no sound effects for all but two minutes of the entire move, when there are added “witch” sounds in a few night scenes and spooky oooohs in the ultimate scene. The lack of sound effects keep the film genuine because it makes the scenes where the filmmakers are just walking around in the woods boring because walking for hours in the woods is boring, and it makes the scenes where immediately after the trio screams at each other awkward and tense because those moments are awkward and tense. Finally, the “hard cuts” between scenes make it impossible for the audience to know how many days have passed and how many days the characters have been lost in the woods. Just as the audience loses sense of time, so too do the characters lose sense of time and reality. The “hard cuts” along with the authenticity of the acting and scenery make the film quite realistic.
Cinematography: 3.5/5 stars
This film clearly follows the “found-footage” style of horror, as the opening slide claims the movie is footage that was discovered in the woods a year after the trio’s disappearance.
The entirety of the film was shot using handheld cameras by the three main actors, which creates a strong connection between the audience and Heather, Mike and Josh. The “first-hand” filming allows the audience to experience the agony of being lost in the woods, the tension among the three filmmakers, the guilt of endangering your friends, and the terror of the witch’s cabin, just as the characters experience those emotions. When Heather runs away from the noises at night, the audience doesn’t see a low-lit scene of a terrified girl running; the audience is the terrified girl running and sees what she sees – complete darkness.
The handheld camera work adds a level authenticity to the film. However, the shakiness of the camera makes the movie difficult to view – I was forced to pause the movie a couple times to stop myself from getting a headache – which detracts from the first-hand experience that’s desired by the producers, as I removed myself from the woods by stopping the movie.
Concluding Feeling: 3.5/5 stars
While watching the final scene, I’ll admit that I was frightened. It was quite eerie how the house in the woods, the bloody handprints of children on the wall, and the dark basement Josh and Heather enter all coincide with the townsperson’s story about the man, Rustin Parr, who killed the seven children some odd years ago.
Despite the creepiness of the house, I felt a little let down because the finale was so open-ended and uncertain. The movie ends with Heather screaming while going down to the basement. Right as she reaches the bottom of the stairs, she sees Mike facing the corner, just as Rustin Parr forced the children he murdered to face the corner. The movie ends with Heather’s camera hitting the floor and Heather presumably dead. All signs in the final scene point to the murderer of the trio being the Blair Witch herself; however, the movie never shows the witch or the murderer. There is a multitude of speculation on the internet about who exactly killed Heather. Theories include the Blair Witch killing all three of the filmmakers, the Blair Witch possessing Josh (who disappears mid-movie) who kills Mike and Heather, and the Blair Witch possessing Josh and Mike (who gets rid of the map and convinces Heather to enter the cabin) who both kill Heather. The ending is so ambiguous it’s impossible to be certain who killed the filmmakers or if some of them survived, which creates a mysterious and frightening ending; however, I don’t feel that the ending was a big enough payoff for the audience and for the anxiety that developed in the film.