Dangerous Universe

Blair Hype Project

ONCE UPON A TIME, AN INTERESTING, WORTHY MOVIE WAS BURIED UNDER AN AVALANCHE OF HYPE. . .     

If I have a talent, it's for mockery, sarcasm and ridicule. So, then, what am I going to say about the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, a movie I actually liked? Because whatever complaints you might have about BWP, it doesn't invite mockery. Satire? Sure. The new crop of sitcoms and SNLs this Fall will deliver truckloads of humorous take-offs on BWP. I could also see where someone might be misled (or exasperated) by all the hype this movie has generated. But the hype that doesn't really have anything to do with the movie itself, and the movie itself is very impressive. It's also difficult to explain the appeal of BWP without telling you what it's not. By now, you already know the plot of the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and if you don't, the less you know about the movie going into it, the better.

Blair Witch ProjectOne thing you do have to know: DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is not a horror flick! I was never horrified watching BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I was scared, creeped-out, unsettled and very, very tense (more on that later), but BWP doesn't have the full-on depiction of human suffering and bloody death required for horror. The "horror" is all once removed from the audience, hinted at in the re-telling of an old story, screaming in the dark, handprints on a wall, bits and pieces of. . . something not quite identifiable. That is the movie's greatest strength, and one of the things that makes this movie worth seeing. It's a testament to the people who made BWP that they can evoke a reaction by these hints and suggestions, scare us with what we DON'T see. So, in a day and age when any fear we can imagine can be brought to full life on the screen, BWP works by evoking that feeling you might have had as a kid getting chased by a dog at night, or hearing an unexplained thump, or being. . . well, lost in the woods.

Which brings me to my second DON'T-BELIEVE-THE-HYPE point: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is not a monster movie, or even a ghost story. A great deal of the tension and fear comes from the breakdown of group dynamics between the unhappy campers lost in the forests of Maine. The fact that there is SOMETHING out there raises the bar. The witch, or whatever it is that is hunting them, is not the primary source of conflict, as it was in a movie like JAWS, or ALIEN. It's an "evil force," and because the characters can't see it, they don't have anything to lash out against except each other. . . I'm getting too "wanky critic" here, so I'll just cut to the third and final point.

Is the movie indeed "scary as hell" as one poster blurb claims? Yes, it is very scary. Actually, "intense" might be the better word. The movie works its way up to a level of tension and never lets up. In fact, at times it's so tense that it's almost not fun to watch. I felt a little rung out by the time the end credits rolled. It's one of my reservations about the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the thing that makes it difficult to pronounce the movie just plain "good." It's innovative, a fresh, creative approach to the "scary movie" (as opposed to "horror movie") genre. I saw THE SIXTH SENSE very soon after I saw BWP, and though SIXTH SENSE wasn't a bad movie, all I could see was artifice and film craft; get a certain camera angle and lighting, cue the music up, and you can make an audience jump at the sight of a flower arrangement. But I'm well aware that innovative and interesting does not a good movie make. I also have a couple of regular complaints about BWP that have nothing to do with how the movie was filmed, namely what I saw as a distinct lack of "pay-off" at the end.

>But those aside, you should see BWP. The movie is an "experience," an experience every movie fan should check out. And see it soon, too. I guarantee you that this is going to be one of the most imitated movies in Hollywood over the next few years. You can bet on at least one shaky video camera scene in every monster movie and horror flick that comes out between now and the next STAR WARS. So see BLAIR WITCH PROJECT while it's fresh and new, before increasingly cheesy movie tie-ins and exploitative sequels cheapen it, and before it becomes so bloated by the weight of its own hype that it's impossible to simply see BWP for what it is: a very striking movie. 8/10/1999

 



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