My Save the Cat homework continues, this time branching out into films within the broader horror genre. Where I began with Alien, a 70s horror classic, I decided to move on to the late 90s with The Blair Witch Project.
My first introduction to The Blair Witch Project, appropriately enough, was a student film advertising Biola University's Saddie Hawkins week: The Babs Witch Project. I particularly liked the on campus tie-ins in the spirit of the original: hanging stick figures outside the cafeteria. Anyhow, I regret to say that in spite of spending six years hanging out with film majors, I never saw the original. So here I am now, yet again, a day late and a dollar short. It's a happy coincidence however, since I now know more about Film and legend tripping.
Preface aside, there are three things about The Blair Witch Project that I appreciated and think helped to sell this rather unorthodox film:
1. Nostalgia -The film is set in 1994 and was released in 1999. That's just enough time for a young person to develop a golden haze around teenage and college years. It removes the viewers one step from the experience (and hopefully shutting down thoughts like "how stupid are these guys?") while simultaneously tapping into all sorts of teenage folklore and experience. How many of us, after all, went into the woods for a good scare? There's also the added practical benefit of being able to deny the doomed trio of characters cell phones and a GPS.
2. Ambiguity - If, as Lovecraft said, the most primal human emotion is fear and the most primal fear is fear of the unknown, then a healthy dose of Ambiguity is a must for any horror film. The Blair Witch Project has this in spades from the way that the shaky camera work keeps us from ever really seeing what the characters are seeing, the indistinct nature of the threat (is it the 1700s witch, the 1800s cult, the 1940s serial killer, the 1970s cult, rednecks, or a homicidal member of their own group?), and the final question of what happened to the three film students.
3. Human Drama - The driving force behind The Blair Witch Project is neither gore nor ghosts but the human relations between the three characters. What we are watching is not so much a horror story as a revelation of how average young adults can react under pressure with disastrous consequences. The real horror is the horror of Aristotle's Poetics: humans like ourselves coming to a horrific end when their every day faults combine with the right circumstances.