By Brett Mullins
Written and Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
These days, it’s rare for an American horror film to sneak up and surprise the audience. If it’s not a vague supernatural thriller originating in another country (usually Japan), then it’s a poorly written and confusing teen scream (See Prom Night (2008)). The point is that when a film breaks the mold in a positive way, they tend to leave an impression on the audience that lasts for some time. In short, this fits the description of The Blair Witch Project.
Three college filmmakers travel to a small town in Maryland to shoot a documentary on a local legend. After interviewing various town folk, they trek through the supposed haunted forest in search of a series of landmarks related to the lore.
This film is unlike the majority of films in that it relies on the audience’s imagination and fear of the unknown to build tension and provide moments of pure terror. Rather than impressive CG or a tantalizing score, the audience hears the creaks, cracks and grumbles of an empty forest. This creates an atmosphere where the audience can easily relate to the characters’ dread, because most of everyone has been lost at some point in their life and shared a similar experience.
The film’s greatest element, however, is its ambiguity. The film opens detailing the fate of the characters; however, what exactly happens to them is a point for debate. This is even so if one considers the complex mythology created around the small town of Burkittsville, Maryland. This backstory sets the tone which transforms ordinarily creepy imagery into a disturbing viewing experience. The audience becomes trapped in a world of dread and torment that becomes increasingly so as the story progresses.
Though this film runs a mere 81 minutes (including credits), it feels much shorter and the ending seems to sneak up from out of nowhere. This is the result of the film building tension continually throughout the film; it appears at times that the audience gets no relief from this. This never stops building leaving the audience with only questions of what they witnessed.