Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Horror Movie Reviews: The Blair Witch Project, Films Original and Sequel LIVE BLOG


The Blair Witch Project (1999) is an original horror film that I have enjoyed since seeing it in the theatre in 1999. If you don't know of its premise, it has been done many MANY times since 1999, but this was the first in the mockumentary horror genre, and it scared the holy hell out of me. The hype and the promotional material leading up to the film was thoughtful and unique. This was one of the first films in which the internet hype really enhanced the movie experience. Full disclosure: When I first saw this film, I was too young and literal to understand that this was a MOCK-umentary and not a straight documentary. I genuinely thought I was watching the lives of these three filmmakers. That added to the horror for sure. People love to mock and downplay this movie's brilliance, but it was a pioneer in horror and I really really love it.

I'm doing this review a little differently because a) I'm running out of time for this project, and b) I think it will be fun to watch and review both very different Blair Witch movies in real time so you can see how my thoughts unfold while watching a film. It will be less thought-out a review than usual, but it should be fun. I've got a French press full of coffee and nothing else on the agenda today. Let's watch some horror!!

******SPOILERS*******

Heather looks so pretty in the beginning. Very mid '90s. I think "28 Days Later" completely copied off this film's camcorder-quality aesthetic. I love a good small-town haunting plotline, and this movie's got it in spades. Black and white graveyard footage!! I think it's possible that the interviews with townspeople are real. Ok, I just looked it up. SOME of the interviews with the townspeople are real and the actors didn't know which, if any, of the townspeople were actors and which were not. The dialogue from the actors in the film is improvised. It all feels so organic and real. It really looks like a student-filmed documentary. It really adds to the creepy. I just paused the movie to read all the Wikipedia on the making of the film because it's fascinating to me. It's really "filmed" by the three actors over the course of eight days. Each day the actors were provided with a general outline of the day's plot-points and locations to travel to on a GPS. So, you're actually watching these people camping together and filming it over the course of about a week. How cool is that? The actors are using their real names in the film. The Wikipedia entry keeps mentioning "the filmmakers" without names. Again, the marketing with every detail is so locked-DOWN, man. This movie is horror catnip for me. Its gritty realness works on me exactly as intended, and I love every minute of it.

Pressing play again. It passes the Bechdel test with Heather's conversation with Mary, the first named townsperson she speaks with for the "documentary".  Also, Heather is in charge. I don't think I'll have any feminist issues with this film, but I don't think anyone of color is in it, either. I'd like Heather Donahue to read horror fiction audiobooks. Must. Resist. Urge. To. Lookitup. I wonder if the "filmmakers" went so far as to make the noises they catch on film. They would have had to have. And the actors knew it was coming, but not when, so some of their stress would have been real. I wonder if the whole map thing was real. If not, did their notes for the day say, "Argue about the damn map all day...all...freaking...day."? I love all the crunchy leaf sounds.

More map arguing. I love it. This is the point when the desperation starts to set in. It seems like they were supposed to camp for two or three nights and now they're lost, so each additional night they're in the woods is unplanned at this point. It would be so terrifying to be lost in the woods with only a map and not knowing where you are on that map. GPS is good. I like modern technology. And I want to go camping now, oddly. The map is officially lost now. Commence-map arguing, level: advanced. Hysterical exhausted laughter is one of my favorite things in the whole world. If it wasn't part of this movie, it would be less believable, even though ALL of it is believable to me. Heather is losing her shit now because Mike just admitted he kicked the map into the creek. This argument feels so real.

I think we're on night four in the woods now. The noises each night get closer and louder. Tonight it sounds like a stampede and children. Is this the night they lose Josh? Heather really makes this movie. She is a true scream queen without any issues of nudity, virginity, or lack of agency. Kudos, Heather Donahue. You're my hero. Josh is still with them. They run from the tent and don't go back until morning. All of Josh's stuff is scattered and/or gone.

Night 5: They've been going in circles despite walking south for days now. They are so frustrated and crazy and stressed which is exactly what would be happening in this situation. They've settled into their roles. Heather is leader. Mike is peacemaker. Josh is antagonist/inconsolable/losing it. The morning after night 5: Josh is gone now. This entry is looong already. Night 6: they hear Josh screaming. My god, this is terrifying. Oh man, the morning after night 6 contains the bundle of Josh's teeth, hair and shirt. The teeth are real teeth donated by a dentist. This movie should have won Oscars. Night 7: the iconic nose-drip scene. They hear Josh screaming for them again. Is this the last night? Yes it is because they found the house. Prepare yourself for a LOOOOOOOT of screaming. Ok then. This movie is only an hour and 17 minutes long. So so so good.

Aesthetics: 4.5

Plot: 4.5

Characters: 4

Score: 4.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 3.5

Rewatchability: 5

OVERALL: 26

Movie Post Script: I just started the whole movie over again to watch the director/producer commentary. It's amazing. They were really out there camping in the woods for a week. The actors were pulled aside and told their character's individual motivations/plots for given time periods. So that moment where Mike reveals he kicked the map into the creek the other actors didn't know that was coming. Brilliant! I guess Josh was really suuuuper antagonistic throughout, which was what made the filmmakers decide to kidnap him instead of their earlier plan to have it be Mike. They wanted to change the dynamic between all of them, which totally works. So all those moment when Heather looks like she's going to strangle Josh were probably pretty real. Fascinating. For the last two days of shooting the actors were given only a PowerBar and an apple to eat each day. Yikes. The director and producer keep mentioning that Heather's shots/framing were accidental, but I don't think they are. Without Donahue, this movie wouldn't be what it was. She did most of the camera-work and most of the great emotional scenes (both the subtle and the really dramatic ones) came from her.

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Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000) is a movie I have seen at least 3 or 4 times. I used to really like it alot, but haven't seen it in many years, since I owned it on VHS probably. This film is drastically different from the original. It's supposed to be a reenactment of events that transpired after the release of the first film. It was not AT ALL well-received by critics. We shall see if it holds up for me.

The score of this film (done by Carter Burwell) is pretty good. It's all sounds of water and rocks banging against each other and shit. A really cool feature of the DVD is that the film's score is on the opposite side of the disc. I wish that had become standard practice for movie soundtracks/scores. There are three main female characters and two dudes in this movie, but no people of color. I identified pretty heavily with two of the women when I initially saw it: the Wiccan and the goth. The Wiccan is a pretty good representation of what Wicca is really about. It's all about nature. Ooh, just passed the Bechdel Test! Next to Buddhism, Wicca is my favorite religion.

Wiccan chick: I believe in nature.
Goth chick: I hate nature.

Man, see my dilemma? Which of these chicks is my spirit animal? Who among us can choose between them? That's the best. As a woman, you hardly ever have two female characters in a movie that you like. I love this first night that they're in the forest. They're all getting drunk and high and bonding. It's awesome. Wait, the third chick is really cool too! She's all philosophical ("Perception IS reality!") and arguing with her boyfriend who is also smart. Cool. According to Wikipedia, the film was conceived as a meditation on the psychological effects of mass hysteria.

I'm twenty minutes into the film and I'm still just as into it as I was when I first saw it. I think this is another case of film critics being totally wrong. The characters all have distinct personalities. Kim (the goth chick) is sort of psychic and sardonic. Erica (the Wiccan) is hypersexual and a bit of a hippy. Jeffrey (the tour director) is probably schizophrenic. Tristen (the writer) is intelligent and believes in the supernatural because of aforementioned "perception is reality" philosophical reasons, i.e. they don't make her into a "dumb" character because she believes the supernatural might be real. Stephen the boy-writer (Tristen's boyfriend) is also smart, but more sentimental as boys tend to be and a non-believer in the supernatural. Their relationship seems plausible with arguments and moments of genuine affection that makes it seem like they've been together for years. Whoa, Tristen has a miscarriage and they actually show her bloody-crotch corduroys.

In contrast to the original, this group gets out of the forest the morning after the first night. They go back to Jeff's house. But...they brought something back with them! Bwa ha haaaaa. Tristen is having nightmares. Kim has marks on her body. Stephen is the realist trying to calm Tristen and get them home. Tristen wants to stay so she can understand what's happening to all of them. They're all having collective hallucinations. They begin to piece together what happened during a collective blackout on the night in the forest when they view the tapes. The scene in the convenient store is an only slightly dramatic version of how people used to treat the gothfolk back in 2000.

There are a few people of color in the movie, but you see them for like two minutes and they end up victims of brutal murder. Events are unfolding kind of like a two-parter episode of X-Files or something. I think they kept the mystery of what is happening pretty well under-wraps. There are so many hallucinations that when the real information trickles in alongside the hallucinations, the viewer knows as little about what's real as the characters. I do call bullshit on when they finally figure out how to view the footage of their missing hours because of all the camera angles. No, wait...this is supposed to be a filmed reenactment of events. Ok, I'll let it pass then. Oh no. Stephen just pushed Tristen off a platform. And they killed those other tourists. All of them were culpable except Tristen. None of them remember killing them. All the evidence suggests that they killed each other and the tourists. I can't forgive Stephen for pushing Tristen off the platform, even if it is as he tells it...that she goaded him into doing it. Still doesn't excuse what he did.

Overall, pretty straightforward psychological horror film. It sort of lost me in the last half hour or so and could have maybe been edited better. I think there should have been more time establishing character development and watching these people slowly unravel and less time unveiling the horror aspects. The actors probably weren't talented enough for that, however. Except Tristen. She gave a pretty nuanced performance. The movie was not great, but enjoyable.

Aesthetics: 3

Plot: 2.5

Characters: 2.5

Score: 3.5

Treatment of Women/Minorities: 2.5

Rewatchability: 3

OVERALL: 17

Whew. That was the "live blog". I just watched both "Blair Witch"movies AND the commentary for the first one. Fourish hours well-spent, I think.

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