The most striking thing about The Blair Witch Project is that the ending strikes you two seconds later, when the end credits begin. For a moment, your mind reels back to the preceding events and you realize how terrific and terrifying the moment is. Paranormal Activity, released much later may have more jump scenes, but nothing in the movie, not even the spooky as hell climax is as intense as Blair Witch's last fifteen or so seconds. If you think I am going to say 'The ending is great but the rest isn't', you are incorrect. Comments such as 'The worst movie ever', 'I hated this film', 'Indie crap' are written as usual without much justification, and that some call the characters 'absolutely unlikeable' is a thing I find utterly baffling.
Three newcomers - one a Shakespearean actress (Heather Donahue), another an experienced independent director (Joshua Leonard) and the other a theater actor (Michael C. Williams) not just act but also film most of their scenes in an isolated forest area using a 16mm and handicam and not just that, the actors were not aware of what was to happen in the woods since the directors didn't tell them what would happen next in their scenes. In the director's commentary, one realizes how spontaneously the three amigos (not exactly 'amigos', just using it because it sounds sweet, sad and ironic) improvised their scenes in order to extract realistic performances. Donahue, who won the Razzie Award for Worst Actress for an act that should've clinched her a Golden Globe nomination, is believed to have modeled her character on a director with whom she had worked with. With such experimentation, such capable acting and such fine editing, I am simply astonished that the word 'worst' is attributed to The Blair Witch Project. 'Unlikable characters'? So if the characters were unlikable, then the reviewers should've loved the film since they 'got what they deserved' according to them - similar to the unlikable characters of Final Destination series. What is get from reading their reviews is plain contradiction - I think the moment they realized it was a shaky camera, they judged every other element superficially.
The plot is simple: Three student filmmakers begin making a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch, and this leads them to the forest where the witch is believed to have existed. Things turn sour when they find stuff in the forest they aren't supposed to, which is ironic since these stuffs would've made their documentary even more credible. They realize that the Blair Witch is simply not a myth of the ignoramus past, and that this force would always work in a similar fashion: haunt at night, leave an after effect in the morning. They also have to maintain their sanity even when tensions and tempers are high. Shaky camera is probably the best aspect of Blair Witch Project. How close we are to the action, how much we anticipate like the actors about what's to happen, how much we are involved in the film because of this wonderful camera technique; it is something only a person who is ready to adjust to any film would understand. Remember Meryl Streep's line at the Oscars: 'When they called my name I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, "oh, no!"', the same thing may apply to certain audience members when they sensed the shaky camera 'When they saw shaky camera, half of the audience members went 'Oh no!'. You have to look beyond that.
The camera work is crisp, highly engaging and very ingenious, even though the actors themselves didn't realize some of the best shot scenes by them were accidental. I never imagined Donahue's last message to her parents was an accidental stroke of greatness till I saw the director's commentary: Heather had thought the camera was recording her entire face while she shot the sequence. Also the interesting shot of Michael in one the bottom left corner of the screen while the rest of the frame is taken up by the tall, foreboding trees was accidental. Even the perfectly coordinated shot of Michael walking away at a distance while Donahue is talking to Joshua in front. Everything is raw, raging and unconventional.
Interviews with local townspeople are also very engaging, since some of the members were non-actors: Advice - don't miss the director's commentary if you have the DVD; you may find new love for the movie. Another advice: do not sleep during those things, considering them on trivial importance. Coming to the three main stars, Donahue is certainly the best, channeling so many emotions in the course of the film effortlessly. The scenes where she breaks down are absolutely powerful. Great support from the two guys, and again, you'll get to see 'Michael's Great Moment No 1,2... ' in the director's commentary. The DVD version does go for an overkill with the made for TV feature that seems silly and excessive - it reminded me of a silly animated movie we had made for a competition where we included dozens of additional attractions, including fake reviews for the film within the film.
Verdict: Recommended. (8.5 / 10)