"It's Not Quite Reality…": 25 Years Of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

"It's Not Quite Reality…": 25 Years Of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

A retrospective on the cultural impact of the independent found footage film that catapulted the genre, and screamed into the mainstream…

Feature Opinion
By JJIngold - Jul 10, 2024 01:07 PM EST
Filed Under: Movies

In a dark theater, August of 1999, an early teenager waited with nervous excitement -and some trepidation- unknowing exactly what would be shown on the screen for the next 81 minutes once the red velvet curtains peeled back. Preceding in the box office line and throughout the lobby was a buzzing through the crowd of fellow moviegoers; “How are they even allowed to show this?!” “Man, I’m telling you, it’s all real” “These people still haven’t even been found…” 

The found footage phenomena that was projected that night, and would fill theaters the rest of the year, was Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project. A story that follows three student filmmakers who set off into the Black Hills of Maryland to document the local myth of a murderous witch who reputedly resides deep in the forest.

Picked up and distributed by Artisan Entertainment after a polarizing premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier that year, a truly authentic viral marketing campaign ensued before it’s July release date. Including everything from missing person posters on college campuses and at film festivals, to a Sci-Fi Channel mockumentary, to a cryptic website of faux police reports, and an IMDb page of “deceased” actors…all in the age when the internet was still dial-up.

The film would promptly brand it’s Twanas-doll shaped mark into some of horror’s finest quotes and frames. The most iconic coming from Heather’s terrified confessional, in which she takes responsibility and sends her apologies to each her own and her colleague’s families, knowing that they wouldn’t be leaving those woods alive. While seemingly being hunted by something out of the handheld camera frame: “I’m scared to close my eyes, I’m scared to open them…”

25 years, a couple of sequels, comic books, video games, dossiers and countless parodies later, and The Blair Witch Project is still firmly planted in the pop culture zeitgeist. As well as plenty of “Best Ever” lists. Paving the way for such found footage hits as Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, the V/H/S franchise, and more. Not without its criticisms; It did score “The Razzies” award for worst actress (Heather Donahue) and a nomination for worst picture (Wild Wild West rightfully took it home that year). Casual viewers and cinephiles alike would even ascertain that a straight hour and twenty minutes of shaky, and novice camera work could be quite nausea-inducing… 

But, one thing that cannot be argued is that it is still one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time. Reportedly shot on an original budget of around $60,000 and said to have ultimately grossed nearly $250 million worldwide. It reset the horror film genre.

As we stand today, a recent announcement at CinemaCon 2024 revealed that Blumhouse will be reviving the title for Lionsgate in an apparent reboot. No plot details or attached director has yet been announced, so it’s only fair that any inference remains squarely facing the corner of the room... But, one has to wonder (as with seemingly most reboots) if this is just another fruitless endeavor and is missing the point, and the era, entirely. For the best black magic trick that the Blair Witch ever pulled, was making the world believe - for at least one summer in 1999 - that it may actually exist. Which, a quarter of a century later, seems like a mere impossibility. 

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