speaking of trees and evil
The Blair Witch Project
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999
#5, 1999 Skandies

Wikipedia says: "Almost 19 hours of usable footage was recorded which had to be edited down to 90 minutes." Wait— there was an edited version? Because I'm pretty sure the movie I saw was at least nineteen hours long.

I saw The Blair Witch Project when it came out. I generally have no interest whatsoever in horror movies, but there was a huge amount of critical acclaim for this one — I heard over and over that it was the "scariest movie ever" and didn't want to miss out on history. As it turned out, I didn't find it remotely scary and considered the film a big disappointment. Six months later it popped up at #2 on Mike D'Angelo's top ten list for 1999, and he said that people who complained that Blair Witch wasn't scary were missing the point: "No, it's not all that scary, ultimately, but what it is instead is better still: one of the most chilling condemnations of human nature ever captured on film (okay, and videotape), deeply cynical and dispiritingly credible." So I made a mental note to watch it again sometime, but didn't really make it a high priority and wound up waiting nine and a half years. Which is enough to fit in almost five full screenings of The Blair Witch Project.

It's not that what makes up the movie is all that bad. Early on in this viewing I actually thought that it was turning out to be much better than I had remembered: the initial footage does indeed look exactly like the sort of footage you get when kids are screwing around with a video camera (it reminded me so much of the sorts of videos my high school debate team took on Dan Dickenson's camcorder that it was really uncanny). The acting and improvised dialogue were likewise very convincing — their banter has that "jovial but not actually funny" vibe characteristic of people trying to amuse each other without the benefit of a scripter. And the story arc that transpires — kids get lost in the woods, turn on each other as exhaustion and hunger set in, have to camp out night after night, freak out as it becomes apparent that something is hunting them — might well have made for a dynamite 44-minute television show. But at twice that length it's a fucking death march in more ways than one.

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