The camera that three would-be filmmakers use on this camping trip/location shoot shakes. The cinematographer adequately keeps most of who and what he needs to in the frame. But Spielberg's not scouting him for the next big Hollywood epic. That clumsiness makes it "real," or seem that way.
Bratty and then unstable behavior from people you don't know but whom you've chosen to wander into the woods and camp with.
Tiny stick figures, pieced together out of twigs, every fresh one betraying that someone or something is stalking these woodland virgins.
A flashlight in a tent in a darker-than-dark forest.
A tough-minded and ambitious college girl, holding a camcorder to her face, plainly scared witless.
Snippets of a chilling "legend" discussed, repeated and then remembered for a finale that still raises the hair on the back of my neck, 10 years after The Blair Witch Project came out. It's a movie version of a million scary campfire tales, a movie Americans have been conditioned, almost since birth, to shrink from.
The college kids ( Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams) want to make a documentary about this local ( Maryland) witch legend. Kids have been disappearing in those woods for decades.
That would make a great movie, right? They pack tents, lights and cameras, but no woodlands skills, and trek off into the forest only to disappear -- with only shaky film and video that they've recorded surviving them.
But there's a subversive subtext to The Blair Witch Project, one that the years have, if anything, reinforced. It's a generational joke, an object lesson in the follies of film school and one of the great gullibility tests of our time.
Who could believe this was "real?" The answer is right there on the screen -- young people who grew up with cable, the Internet and cell phones, a coddled, media-and-tech savvy generation that wants fame and sees film school as a means of attaining it, but is utterly inept at survival basics once they've severed their electronic tether. Time and again, they face fear and danger that they can only appreciate by seeing through a viewfinder. Reality? Not unless I can TiVo it.
So enjoy the frights, the darkness, the perfectly-timed bumps in the night. And try to pretend you weren't one of those who fell for the cunning "This really happened" hype that the movie-makers (co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, with Michael Monello, Gregg Hale and Robin Cowie, design by Ben Rock, cinematography by Neal Fredericks) used to make The Blair Witch Project a horror hit and a cultural phenomenon for the ages.
The Blair Witch Project Four of five stars Cast: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams Director: Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes Industry rating: R for language.