Blair Witch Project: The Terror of the Mundance

Like any truly effective horror movie, the fear inspired by BWP resides as much in its psychic aftershock as it does in its immediate impact. As a true barometer of this post-film trauma, I couldn't help noticing that the small patch of creek-side woods that metropolitan developers have thus far allowed to subsist next to my otherwise urban apartment complex were positively unnerving to me as I walked back to my apartment an hour after leaving the theatre.

One of the ways you can really tell you're getting sucked in, is that the characters are so utterly realistic in their immature, sophomoristic interactions. They fight foolishly and egotistically, and can't get a single phrase out without the word "fuck" in it. So you find yourself more and more annoyed with them as the film progresses-- probably because they remind you SO much of yourself at that age: headstrong, tough-talking, fractious, self-important, naive and shallow.

But one of the most effective aspects of the film is the fact that the horror of the thing is so subtle. The source of the trio's terror is never once shown directly. Only echos are heard, and traces left behind. That's what works so well about the movie: the majority of it is shot in daylight, and some of the scariest scenes are in the reassuring light of dawn.

The two spookiest characters of the film are the two ever-present cameras. Their persistent gaze, especially in the most climactically terrifying moments, is the least realistic piece of this movie. (Still if weren't for them, we wouldn't have a movie, would we?) The trio is equipped with a black and white 16mm and a hand-held video cam. The seemingly enlessly-powered video camera is the mythical gun that never runs out of bullets, and it provides the lion's share of the film's scenes. The more sparingly used 16mm is apparently shooting the official footage of the students' actual documentary.

Their different perspectives and interplay are one of the most interesting elements of the movie. The video cam is the subjective, human eye. Josh at one point wrests it from Heather's grasp and we hear him commenting: "Now I know why you like this thing: it's not quite reality." It's usage adds the element of personal tragedy to the movie: it is the witness to Heather's famous terrified confession in the tent; it seemingly awakens with the campers in a haze of darkness each night, only later to have it's light illuminated-- a very human touch. And it is the extension of Heather's personality: dogged in its persistence, intrusive in it inquisitiveness, and poetically showing her despair as its technicolor eye is dropped suddenly when Heather conclusively realizes their total geographic perdition, twitching with the convulsions of her sobs.

The 16 mm is the tool of Michael and Josh, the film's two objective professionals. Like them, it only comes into play at the director's (Heather's) insistance. But what it sees is invariably unsettling, especially (nice touch of realism here) insofar as Josh, we learn early on in the film, doesn't really know how to use it. So its images are always a little hazy, out of focus, both frighteningly emblematic of its users' youthful inexperience, and lending an eery feel to even the most quotidien of images.