The Blair which project? The Blair *Witch* Project! That’s what we’re talking bout in episode 30 of We Have Such Films To Show You, and it turns out that it’s a film that still holds up pretty well 15 years on.
(Here’s the mp3, facing the corner.)
So what’s the skinny on a film that got famous as much as anything for having no good reason to have expected to get famous? Blair Witch looks like an indie film project — tiny cast, no sets, no recognizable names, not much of a plot or sense of direction — but it’s a really *good* one. So much is done well in terms of economical horror filmmaking here, from exploiting poor or no picture to using smart, sparing sound design, to letting the fundamental discomfort of disorientation and interpersonal emotional tension do the work of putting viewers on edge.
It’s not a film that stands up well to close rational scrutiny, but it’s not the sort of horror film that’s operates under the pretense it could. It’s just creepy and doomed from start to finish, a slow cranking burn through fear of the dark and the sense of having gotten in way, way over one’s head.
Also interesting, for a film that deserves a lot of credit for being a guiding light to the explosion of found footage horror that’s followed in the last fifteen years, it what it doesn’t have: nowhere in this film do we see the now almost obligatory-feeling use of camera-POV sexual exploitation of one character by another, things that are between hinted at and blatantly leaned on in everything from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S. Blair Witch didn’t even glance in that direction, and didn’t need to.
We talk a bit about what worked most and least for each of us (Yakov was genuinely scared watching it again, Josh was engaged with the film’s narrative and style but found the strong memory of most of the twists robbed it of actual scares for him on revisiting), and also come up with a few questionable theories about the metanarrative of the film, including a discussion of, as usual, the question of who the editor of this footage would have been if the viewer takes at face value the idea that this is supposed to be an assembled artifact within the film’s universe, especially given that a notional edit of the Blair Witch footage would have required among other things a lot of painstaking matching of soundless 16mm film to DAT audio recorded independently out of syc.
Highlights of a couple of those theories:
1. Heather, the lead woman in the film, is of the same possessed-by-a-film-auteur-demon ilk as Josh theorized Katie from Paranormal Activity was; we don’t see Heather die on camera, because she doesn’t, because she was planning The Blair Witch Project film itself as her real film project, and her pointedly crappy documentary-within-the-film was just an excuse to lure Josh (film-Josh, no relation) and Mike into the woods to kill them off.
2. The Blair Witch Project is not meant to be a literal edited film, but a metaphorical projection of the narrative arc of memories of some Maryland police officer who was tasked with reviewing the footage. He or she sits through twenty, thirty, forty hours of camcorder and developed 16mm film and DAT audio, trying to piece things together, and what we’re looking at and listening to is a semi-cohesive representation of the resulting nightmares said officer had over the next several weeks, months, years of their life, so traumatized were they by the force of the total footage and the grisly circumstances.
Also we got off on a tangent near the end about the current trend of retro-console graphics — 8bit and 16bit Nintendo/Saga pixel art games — and whether there will ever be a similar strong, faithful retro movement to recreate the shitty low-poly-count, low-res texture aesthetic of the earliest 3D console releases for e.g. Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation. Why? Who knows! Maybe because the Playstation game Silent Hill was based in part on Kindergarten Cop? That’s a reason, sure.
And that’s that for this episode! Thanks for listening, see you next time.