In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary...A year later their footage was found.
In the summer of 1999 a low-budget American horror film was released. $22,000 was the budget of the film, and it would go on to gross over $248, 000, 000 worldwide. As a horror movie it did not feature a CGI monster, a slashing serial killer, or buckets of gore. The film used the audience’s imagination and film craft to create one of the creepiest and most haunting horror films to emerge from American cinema in the last few decades.
The film was heavily marketed on the internet as a true story about three filmmakers making a documentary about a local supernatural legend in the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland by the name of the Blair Witch. The students had disappeared, but one year later their film equipment and footage was found, or so the marketing campaign went.
Heather, Josh, and Michael travel to Burkittsville where they interview various locals about the Blair Witch. Tales of murder and the supernatural are shared. The three students then head to the woods, in hopes of finding evidence of the Blair Witch. After spending a night in the woods the trio hike deeper into the forest. At this time they become uncertain as to their location on their map. Anxiety creeps in, and it can be felt on as well as off the screen.
Strange sounds are heard during that evening. The next day they try to make it back to their vehicle before night, but don’t make it in time. Another evening is spent in the forest. More sounds are heard, except this time they’re closer. The next morning they find three small cairns that have been built around their tent during the evening. At this point it’s clear they’re not alone in the woods.
From this point onwards the film becomes a downward spiral. Things get continually worse for Heather, Josh, and Michael. Their map is lost, personalities begin to clash, and the breakdowns begin. All of the dialogue is improvised and this does help keep the situations feeling tense as well as real.
The film unfolds strictly through the lenses of the cameras held by the three students. Call it an exercise or a gimmick, the filmmaking style works. Whether you like the characters or not, you’re well aware that these people are doomed from the start. You’re literally along for the ride as these characters delve deeper and deeper into into truly frightening territory.
A member of the team vanishes during the night, and it’s more apparent than ever that the two remaining members of the team will not make it out of the woods. Sounds of what appear to be children can be heard, things are attacking the tent at night. Things are literally going bump in the night.
There is no motivation, no antagonist, not even a true villain. This is perhaps the film’s greatest effect, is whatever is haunting these the main characters is as bad as you want to make it. What the filmmakers don’t show us is what is truly disturbing. Less is more has never been more true than in a film such as this.