Monday, 18 March 2013

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

“I see why you like this video camera so much. It’s not quite reality.”

No, this isn’t a film about Cherie Blair. Yes, I did make a calculated decision to start this review with a cheap quip. You gotta get the punters in somehow.

This is a difficult film to judge. I won’t pretend that it’s the most engaging movie out there. It’s very format and the way that it’s shot are not exactly viewer friendly or, to be fair, intended to be so. The “found footage” format means that form effectively becomes content, and much of the dialogue has metatextual fun about this. I mean, we even get the line “think of the joy of being in a really good film”. Cocky, much? This film is very clever, I admit, but I’m not sure I think it’s particularly great. The bad direction may be not only deliberate but fundamental to the story telling, but it’s still bad direction.

On the other hand, this was the first in a  line of “found footage” films, most of which sank without trace, and perhaps it would have felt much fresher at the time of release. Certainly, it seems to have impressed the critics in 1999 far more than its modern reputation would suggest.

The actual plot is nothing less than superb, and the scares are handled well. There is nothing wrong with the script, characterisation, or acting. But we have a paradox. The amateur style of direction is simultaneously essential to the narrative and a barrier to the viewer. It simply makes the film harder to watch, especially for a mainstream audience. Still, it seems to have attracted that same mainstream audience, so what do I know?

There are some nice touches. I like the switches between monochrome, sepia, and colour for effect. It is also a wise decision to leave the nature of the supernatural threat pleasingly vague. It’s much scarier that way. The ending is confused, but that’s the point.

As I said, this is a hard film to judge. Perhaps I should just simply say that it is a fascinating document of film history. I’m glad I’ve seen it.

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