“The Blair Witch Project” is a movie that creates a palpable sense of “being there,” caught in theaction as four teenagers get lost in the woods outside of in 1994 …never to be seen again. It is the foundational found-footage horror film (not the first, but the most influential) for a reason. You can feel the chill in the air. The noticeable shift in ambient noise from city / sound pollution to the silence of the forest night. The characters are lost, searching for something they don’t believe in. You aren’t sure, either.
You feel like you’re there but … I was not there, at the same time. Because I think “The Blair Witch Project,” divorced from the social experience and the timing of its original release, ends up feeling somewhat hollow.
As invested as I became in the tone and feeling of the movie, I never felt truly scared. I can’t imagine screaming, throwing up, fainting. I can’t imagine leaving my apartment immediately afterwards and feeling insecure and frightened by it.
When I was 9 years old, a classmate of mine who saw every horror movie he could gave me the grisly details: It was all true! The witch is real, it killed a boy and the girl found the heart and then they all died in her house. I remember being nervous about the movie secondhand. I was too scared to watch it then. So it became a matter of principle: I would not watch “The Blair Witch Project,” ever.
Seventeen years later, I decided it was time to fill that gap. To be honest, I wish I’d been a teenager in 1999 because maybe one of my friends could have dared me into it. I think there’s a tendency to sneer at movies crafted to be seen in large groups. Academically, a movie should be able to stand alone. There is a critical instinct to sit with your hand under your chin and say “Hmm, well. But, actually …, and to look down on the communal experience of moviegoing. I can see why this movie succeeded the way it did, and I wish I’d have gotten to experience that context.
Taken alone, “The Blair Witch Project” is not without charms. The aforementioned noise, the looseness of the characters and the sheer disorientation of their plight is good stuff. But it isn’t gripping! It doesn’t draw you in and force you to invest in it. It does not present anything visually challenging or thematically compelling. “The Blair Witch Project” feels hollow.