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The Blair Witch Project(1999)
Three film students travel to the woods of Maryland to investigate an urban legend, and find themselves terrified to the core. The friends - Heather, Josh and Mike - never return from the Black Hills Forest, and one year later their missing footage is found and edited together to tell the story of the amateur filmmakers' terrifying two-day hike.
For more about The Blair Witch Project and the The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray release, see the The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 3, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams
Directors: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
» See full cast & crew
The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray Review
One of the most influential horror movies of the past couple of decades makes its Blu-ray review.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 3, 2010
Were you caught up in the great film hype of 1999? If you were paying attention, and perhaps even if you weren't, chances are you couldn't easily escape the press mania surrounding The Blair Witch Project, an indie horror film clad as a faux unfinished documentary which was supposedly among the scariest films ever made. I read about the film for what seemed like months and months, but never was able to see it in theaters. Maybe that's what made the difference for me, for I must confess going into this review I have never totally understood what all the fuss about this odd little film was about. Certainly regular readers of film reviews should know that sooner or later you'll stumble across the idiot reviewer who fails to see the intrinsic quality of a supposed classic. While it's highly unlikely anyone will ever seriously take Citizen Kane to task, for example, I have to struggle sometimes with my film fan friends to defend my completely nonplussed reaction to The Blair Witch Project. Even my own wife could barely stand to look at the television when I had the new Blu-ray of Blair playing, so frightened was she by the mere hint of something sinister happening. Maybe that's the difference between lovers of this kind of film and the more jaded, curmudgeonly types of which I am definitely a member: the former is more prone to suggestion, able to craft things that go bump in the night out of pure imagination, while more literal types like yours truly want some kind of payoff for all the ostensibly spooky happenings. A lot of people insist The Blair Witch Project set a new standard for modern American horror. I'm not one of those people, so take the rest of this review with that caveat firmly in hand.
What do we get in The Blair Witch Project, if not out and out onscreen horror. To give the film its due, Blair Witch is certainly one of the most innovative screamfests to come down the pike in the entire horror genre. Instead of gruesome monsters or buckets of blood spurting from slit open throats, we get a faux documentary, supposedly cobbled together from film scraps discovered after the deaths of the filmmakers. This verité approach is part of what gives Blair its very real, visceral quality. Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams, playing more or less themselves, take two handheld cameras and film themselves entering the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, on a quest to discover the truth about the legend of the Blair Witch.
The film plays out as a sort of voyeuristic post mortem on what happened to the hapless trio. We find the beginning of Blair Witch mostly carefree, as the three examine a glut of infant graves, supposedly the victims of mysterious deaths, and begins to deconstruct the Blair Witch mythology. Things quickly begin to go awry, as they ultimately get lost in the woods, and a number of spooky things starts happening to them. Their camaraderie soon turns to bickering and the film becomes more and more chaotic as the trio's mental state becomes more and more unhinged.
While there's no denying the threat of danger and ominous foreboding which is somewhat slathered over the proceedings in Blair Witch, my major problem with the film is that it seems so awfully silly after a while. With a deliberately lo-fi filming technique, which is further exacerbated by the equally deliberate choppy editing style (this is, after all, the purported "remnants" of a film in process, and so not the polished final product that was "planned"), make the film play like a bunch of high school skits. By the time Donahue is alone, covered in mucus, with a flashlight actually placed beneath her face, shining upward (a la everyone's modus operandi at campfire ghost story marathons), it just seems patently ridiculous. Yes, some people (actually a lot of people, based on Blair Witch's astounding box office, well north of $200 million on its primary theatrical exposition) found this odd vicarious approach absolutely riveting and very, very scary. Both the first time I watched this film, and again as I viewed it again in preparation for this review, I kept wondering when something really scary was actually going to happen, as opposed to creepy noises being heard or strange artifacts being found.
One of the things that does become quite clear in watching the various endings included on this Blu-ray as supplements, is how deliberate the filmmakers, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, actually were in their faux-verité procedures. This film may indeed play like the ramblings of three extremely naïve young people, with an intentionally discombobulated filming style, but watching the slight variations in choices of how exactly to end the film makes it very apparent that a lot of thought went into Blair Witch. The film may cheat some viewers in terms of never really providing up close and personal shocks, leaving it all to the vagaries of the imagination (whether that of the onscreen characters or the audience at large), but you have to hand it to these artists: they decided on a tack and stuck to their guns, to horribly mix metaphors.
The Blair Witch Project proved, as with so many overhyped film phenomena, to be a flash in the pan. The sequel bombed, and the long delayed third installment is still being talked about, but has never gotten much beyond the discussion phase. A supposed Scottish remake is still on the distant horizon. What, then, are we left with with The Blair Witch Project. It's a decidedly innovative film in its method and structure. It's a horror film with virtually no onscreen violence or mayhem of any sort. It certainly frightened the hell out of a hell of a lot of people. That may be enough, in fact more than enough, to ensure the film's legacy. I just can't help wishing there had been more there there to hang the film's morbid occultism on. The film reeks of artifice and pretension, like a bunch of white college kids attempting to do Voodoo.
The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray, Video Quality
Was there ever a film less likely to benefit from a Blu-ray upgrade than The Blair Witch Project? I certainly can't think of one. This film obviously is "recreating" an amateur attempt at making a documentary, and so we're greeted with a variety of what looks to be at best 16mm footage, all with attendant grain, fuzziness and overall softness, and at times appallingly bad color. (Several black and white segments are also included in the film). The Blu-ray's AVC encoded 1080p image, in 1.33:1, certainly recreates the original look of the film spectacularly well, but if you've never seen Blair Witch, take a deep breath before getting your expectations too high. This film looks almost exactly like it did on SD-DVD. Colors may indeed be a tad better, but I found the Blu-ray's superior resolution to actually be a detriment to the film's image quality, with an almost pixellated look to a lot of this intentionally lo-fi video. Contrast is negligible, to the point where often far shots of one of the trio simply dissolve into a morass of muddiness, where the human can't be differentiated from the foliage. There's also some fairly egregious telecine wobble during the opening credits and textual elements of the film, as well as shimmer and some noticeable edge enhancement. The Blair Witch Project was frankly always an ugly looking film, something that added to its peculiar charms to a certain segment of the filmgoing public, and this Blu-ray unfortunately can't do much with that less than glamorous source material.
The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Similarly, there's very little if any "high def" audio presentation here, despite a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. This is a film with the bulk of the audio supposedly coming from the built in microphones on the handheld cameras the trio brings with them on their mystical trek, and so an overly compressed soundfield has been part and parcel of the Blair Witch experience from the beginning. Dialogue is for the most part very clear, and there are some very inventive sound effects well mixed into the proceedings. In fact I would argue rather vociferously that a good deal of the terror felt by audiences in the film's closing moments is due to the expertly placed shrieks which fill the admittedly narrow soundfield, more than any imagery we see during the denouement. While there's nothing extraordinary here, it's a nuts and bolts soundtrack that sports decent enough fidelity to get the job done, with a few dashes of overt theatricality mixed in for good measure.
The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the extras from the previously released SD-DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray release. They include:
The Blair Witch Project Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you're a fan of The Blair Witch Project, you'll probably want to pick up this bargain priced Blu-ray no matter what some dunderheaded reviewer might say. If you've never seen the film, you'll probably fall into one of two camps if you choose to check out this newest iteration of it. Either you'll be enthralled and terrified by the mere hint of horror, which really is after all the gist of what this film provides. Or, like certain curmudgeons, you'll wonder what all the fuss and hype was about.
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