“Wicked ‘Witch'”
by Scott Mantz

“The Blair Witch Project”
Heather Donahue,
Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick

Its easy for films these days to get lost in the shuffle. Audiences are more jaded than ever, and studios are desperate for original material. Every once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and strikes a nerve. “The Blair Witch Project” is one of those films. Ever since its acquisition by Artisan Entertainment after a midnight screening at the Sundance Film Festival, buzz around “Blair” has been spreading faster than the Eubola Virus.

Rightly so. The filmmaking technique is fresh and original. The result is a genuinely frightening piece that is sure to breathe new blood into the horror genre, long out of steam with hip-teen satirical slasher pics. Budgeted anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000 (depending on who you ask) “Blair” is one of the most innovative films to come out in some time, and it is sure to inspire hoards of would-be filmmakers in possession of a camcorder.

Its what you don’t see in “The Blair Witch Project” that scares you. It taps into your psyche and lets your imagination run wild. By using their hand-held cameras to document each day, we witness the disintegration of the human spirit into paranoia, desperation, and utter terror.

As the story goes, Heather, Josh and Mike are three student filmmakers shooting a documentary about a witch who supposedly haunts the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. They disappear and are never heard from again. A year later, their footage is discovered, and this film is what they shot.

Its Heather’s project, and Mike and Josh are her crew. Things start simple enough, but the trouble begins when they get lost in the woods and run out of food. They start hearing things, but at night its so pitch black they can’t see their hands in front of their faces. They’re cold, hungry, exhausted, and terrified, and they start to turn on each other. Finally, Josh disappears. They hear his screams in the distance, but still cannot see anything.

Its common knowledge by the now that this is purely the work of fiction. However, the unique approach to push the film as an actual event has been so successful that its become a phenomenon. The official web sight contains police footage of the investigation and the recovered film canisters. A special on the Sci Fi Channel was so thorough, it probably cost more than the actual film.

Had this been made inside the Hollywood studio system, it might have starred Janeane Garofalo, Mathew McConaughey, and Oliver Platt, with Michael Bay as the director (that’s not gonna happen!). Fortunately, using unknown actors adds to “Blair’s” credibility as a true story, and the hand-held camera approach brings you right into their frightening world. Lets just hope they don’t get any bright ideas for a sequel.