Witch Project follows a trio of filmmakers on what should have been
a simple walk in the woods... but quickly becomes an excursion into heart-stopping
terror. As the three become inexplicably lost, moral deteriorates. Hunger
sets in. Accusations fly. By night, unseen evil stirs beyond their campfire's
light. By day, chilling ritualistic figures are discovered nearby. As the
end of their journey approaches, they realize that what they are filming
now is not a legend... but their own decent into unimaginable horror.
"Witches in days gone by were roasted just like my Vienna sausage."
- Heather Donahue
This film is not
a feature film. For a start, it is not feature length, also, it is not
shot on film. More importantly, it does not have what feature films have
these days: star actors, special effects, exotic locations, explosions.
Instead, seeing The Blair Witch Project is seeing something else
that a cinema can be: a place where people can share an intimate experience
created by a few people on a tight budget. I would be glad of its success
if only for that reason.
The first section
of the film appears at first to be amateurish and slow. In fact, it is
very deft, and very efficient at what it does. It tells the audience everything
it needs to know about the characters and situation, and nothing more.
Also, it gets the audience into the habit of viewing the film's format:
alternating between black and white (very grainy and poorly focussed) film,
and the washed out colours of shaky pixilated video. The film makers managed
to set up a rationale for why the film is so cheaply made. Three people
hike into the woods for a few days to shoot a documentary, with borrowed
equipment, and are in the habit of videoing everything for the hell of
it. They cannot carry tripods, steadicams, dollies, large lighting rigs,
or the like, so everything we see is lit either by raw daylight, or by
a single light fixed to the camera, which illuminates just what is within
a few feet of the lens. The film creates its own excuse to be cheap. This
The acting and
script are both excellent. The well-cast actors are presumably playing
pretty-much themselves, and are convincingly naturalistic, and neither
too likeable or too dislikeable. The slow route into hysteria is well documented.
Rather than simply having a character say "We're lost!", we see many scenes
which show the trio getting more and more hopelessly lost, and more annoyed
with each other for this. By the time they are thoroughly lost, the audience
shares the despair.
The jerky, badly-framed
camerawork is hard on the eye and stomach, but I applaud the director for
its uncompromising use. Similarly, no compromise is made with the dialogue.
Some of it is very quiet and must be listened for, some is technical jargon,
which is left realisticly unexplained.
One of the great
strengths and weaknesses of the film is the editing. It is good in that
it does much to heighten the tension, with many key moments lasting just
a little too long for comfort. Each time the characters find something
nasty, the viewer is made to want the editor to cut soon to the next scene,
and the fact that he doesn't adds to the sense of being trapped, as the
characters are. The problem with this, though, is that one is left wondering
about the motives of the fictional editor. In truth, of course, the film
is edited to create these effects, and to entertain, but the film's rationale
is that these are the rushes of a documentary put together posthumously
by someone other than the film's original creator. Why, then, would an
editor piecing together such footage, edit for dramatic effect rather than
for clarity? Why would he keep cutting back and forth from the video footage
to the film footage, when neither shows any more information than the other?
The film is
stark. After one simple caption at the start, all that follows is the "rushes".
I wonder if the film might not have been improved with an introductory
section which documented how the rushes were found and edited. A programme
was made for television which did this. Perhaps a portion of this might
have been added to the film, making it more complete, and more believable
(and proper feature length).
While I applaud
the fact that young original film-makers have managed to create a mainstream
hit out of a simple idea, well-handled. I dread the possible avalanche
of inferior copies which may come.
films these days are created not for the audience, but for the makers.
The departments of special effects, make-up, model-making, animation and
so forth all try hard to show potential future employers what they can
do. The result is that nothing is left for the audience to do, since everything
can be seen and heard, and the viewer's imagination can be switched off.
Today, it is possible to see pigs fly on the screen, and so film-makers
show off and show us a formation of Tamworths, which is something which
will look impressive in the trailer. To show us less is to make our minds
fill in the gaps. This way, we create our own terrors, perfectly fitted
to ourselves. The ghastly face I see in my head, is the ghastly head which
I find scary. The ghastly face I am shown may be one I can cope with quite
easily. If I see a believable character screaming in hysterical fear at
something I cannot see, my own brain creates demons for my night's dreams,
demons far more mighty than anything CGI graphics or a latex mask could
three principal actors, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C.
Williams, shot nearly all of the completed film.
actors were requested to interview the townspeople, who often, unbeknownst
to the actors, were planted by the directors. As a result, the expressions
on the actors' faces were unrehearsed.
working title was "The Black Hills Project."
actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind
the plot before shooting began. All lines were improvised and nearly all
the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and
were often on-camera surprises to them all.
theatergoers experienced nausea from the handheld camera movements and
actually had to leave to vomit. In some Toronto theatres, ushers asked
patrons who where prone to motion sickness to sit in the aisle seat and
to try not to "throw up on other people."
production company Haxan Films borrowed its named from Benjamin Christensen's
witchcraft documentary, Häxan from 1922, a source of inspiration
for the film.
house that Heather is in during the opening shot is owned by Lonnie Glerum,
the film's key production assistant. He is also operating the camera during
the opening shot.
promoting the film, the producers claimed it was real footage. Some people
still believe it.
the film was released, the three main actors were listed as "missing, presumed
dead" on the IMDb.
of the video cameras used by the actors was bought at Circuit City. After
filming was completed, the producers returned the camera for a refund,
making their budget money go even further.
Joshua Leonard and Heather Donahue pick up Michael C. Williams, they were
originally listening to the song "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The
Animals on the radio. However, Haxan Films couldn't get the rights to keep
it in the film.
the supermarket scene near the start of the film, you hear in the background,
the line "You're Rick Derris?". This is taken from Kevin Smith's 1994 film Clerks.
Donahue's discovery of Joshua Leonard's (presumed) tongue and teeth wrapped
in his handkerchief bears a striking similarity to Washington Irving's
story "The Devil and Tom Walker". Tom's wife goes to find the devil
in the swamp, and never returns home. When Tom goes to find her, he discovers
her apron with her heart and liver inside.
16-millimeter camera was broken during filming; Joshua Leonard (who had
the camera in his pack) rolled down a hill, causing the lens to pop off
film was in the Guinness Book Of World Records for "Top Budget: Box Office
Ratio" (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $22,000 to make and
made back $240.5 million, a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.
sign for Burkitsville at the beginning of the movie has been stolen three
times, and was stolen opening night of the movie.
waitress asking about Blair High School is played by Sandra Sánchez,
the sister of director Eduardo Sánchez.
three leads believed the Blair Witch was a real legend during filming,
though of course they knew the film was going to be fake. Only after the
film's release did they discover that the entire mythology was made up
by the film's creators.
the record for the highest-grossing independent movie of all time until
October 2002, when it was surpassed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
film uses the word "fuck" 133 times.
filmmakers placed flyers around Cannes for the film festival that were
"Missing" posters, stating that the cast was missing. All the flyers were
taken down by the next day. It turns out that a television executive had
been kidnapped just prior, and they were taken down out of respect. The
executive was since recovered safely.
took a mere 8 days to shoot this film.
Heather Donahue brought a knife into the forest while filming was taking
place because she didn't like the idea of sleeping with two guys.
promote discord between actors, the directors deliberately gave them less
food each day of shooting.
a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent
suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted
and the director shook the tent; they were really scared.
first cut of the movie to be screened was 2.5 hours in length.
endings shot in post-production that were scrapped included Mike being
hanged, another had him bound to the wall with twigs in the manner of a
stick figure. Stick figures themselves were experimented with as decorations
in the final scene.
had to be directed to open the twig "package" after throwing it aside.
The package contains blood, teeth, and clumps of hair... no tongue.