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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Blair Witch Project

A movie that puts a chill into a long, hot summer

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 12, 1999 -- "The Blair Witch Project" is a throwback to the ancient pastime of listening to ghost stories told around a campfire.

This is one movie you don't want to see if you are planning an overnight hikingtrip anytime soon. The low-budget thriller very carefully sets the stage with standard documentary footage, having the locals in the real town of Burkittsville, Maryland tell spooky ghost stories.

Three young filmmakers head into the woods to do a documentary about the witch. Good spirits, jokes and clowning around gradually give way to hunger, sleeplessness and finally, panic, when the three (very convincingly portrayed by Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams) become lost.

Strange noises are heard in the night. Creepy things are found in the woods. The eeriness builds gradually, aided by the documentary style of film making. It makes you feel as though you are trapped in the woods with them. The tension builds inexorably to a very unsettling climax.

One of the reasons this film works as a ghost story is that, unlike films such as "The Haunting," it doesn't rely on special effects. Some of the most effective scenes have no image at all, only sound. Imagine listening to a scary ghost story in total darkness. The darkness becomes an ally of the story, drawing you in and making you feel a part of it.

For those of you old enough to remember when radio drama was a prime entertainment medium. This would be like a radio ghost story in a very dark room. This kind of story telling is effective because it plays upon the imagination of the audience.

The idea of allowing the screen to go dark for extended periods of the film is almost unheard of these days. It calls for restraint. Most Hollywood films would fill those frames with special effects. Most ghost stories have a "gotcha!" scene, where somebody, or some thing, jumps out from behind the camera to scare you. This film is not so predictable. It keeps you guessing right up to the end.

Instead of special effects and gore, it plants subtle hints here and there. They add up over time. It plays with your mind. This kind of story telling takes patience. It is easy to try for a payoff too soon and spoil the suspense. This film does not fall into that trap.

Nevertheless, it is pretty obviously a very low-budget film. The constant swaying and jerking of the camera is annoying, although that motion does add to the unsettling nature of the experience of watching this film. This motion has even made some people vomit (look away from the screen now and then). The narrow screen image, perfect for television, looks a little skimpy on those big theater screens. This is the way movies used to look in the 1940s before Hollywood went to the wide screen format.

Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick (co-writers and co-directors) have done a great job of editing this film which was shot by the actors themselves. They have proved something that some movie industry people thought was impossible, that you can make a blockbuster movie for roughly the cost of a new car.

Although the movie has little gore, no violence and no sex, the language is quite profane, hence the "R" rating. As for entertainment, this film rates a B.

As one might expect, this film has spawned quite a few quickie immitations. Here's a link to some of the better ones, winners of a contest by E! Online.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]