Monster Movie Blatherings: The Blair Witch Project

Ever watch a movie and realize, days later, that you still have Opinions about it?  Yeah, that happened, and so here we are, because I had to write about it.

(Note: If you’re like me, and hadn’t watched this before, there’s going to be spoilers, so read at your own risk, I guess?)

The other day I decided to watch “The Blair Witch Project” for the first time.  I hadn’t seen it when it came out, due to a combination of my annoyance at the existence of “Shaky Cam” filming and an aggressive dislike of hype.  At a certain point, something or someone becomes so popular that I get sick of hearing about it so much that I refuse to engage with them at all, and this movie had a serious case of both problems going for it for a long time.

Also, I am REALLY picky about horror movies.  I *love* them, but I consider a lot of the staples (excessive gore, jump-scares, gratuitous sexual assault) to be pretty much the pinnacle of lazy, boring writing and, sadly, this is usually the content of most horror movies, and just… *zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*.  Gore is gross, not scary.  Jump-scares are relying on the nervous system’s reflexes, not actual fear.  Sexual assault as a shitty plot device is an entire rant on it’s own.  Mostly, though?  I am highly critical of monsters.  I love nothing more than a good monster, but I very much insist that monsters be not only actually scary and also make logical sense.  “Because it’s a monster” as a reason for why it’s doing something is #1 of my Top 5 Worst Excuses For Bad Monster Writing. Finding a horror movie that doesn’t fall into these traps is depressingly difficult.  Everything I’d heard over the years about BWP led me to believe that the “monster” (witch) was going to be the kind that I despise, and so between that, the excessive hype, and the filming style, I just didn’t want to waste my time on that.  Recently, though, it was brought up in several unconnected places and something about what people were saying made me curious enough to check it out finally.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was wrong. In my defense, it had, much like the original Stargate movie, been positioned as something else, and I can only work with what info I have available.  I still don’t think it’s that great of a movie, and that it was very much overhyped, but I enjoyed it.

One of my favorite things is, weirdly, that it’s a monster movie that has no actual monster.  There is no witch.  There is only the creeping horror of watching three people literally drive themselves to madness through the power of their own imaginations, fueled by sleep deprivation and probably mild hypothermia, in an environment that they had no solid experience being in.  The penultimate scene, the guy standing in the corner, is viscerally horrifying not because of any supernatural influences, but because it’s such a brutally, painfully, stark display of just how far his psyche had broken in such a short amount of time.  It’s terrifying as a statement on the fragility of the human mind and how easily it can be destroyed.

As someone who has spent much of her life in woods far deeper and wilder than the ones the characters found themselves in, I know how sounds can carry strangely, and how animals going about their day are louder than one would expect.  Squirrels and rabbits make as much noise as you might think a deer should.  A deer sounds like something the size of a moose, especially at night.  I’ve seen suburban folks cowering in their vehicles, terrified, because they saw eyeshine peering at them from the undergrowth and were convinced it was something far more sinister than a family of raccoons eyeing their improperly secured cooler.  The characters in BWP were suburban folks who had already primed themselves to be looking for supernatural dangers and expecting witches and ghosts, before they ever set foot beyond the treelines, and were not thinking that maybe the screaming they heard were more likely the sounds of foxes dining on rabbits, and less the ghosts of dead children.  They lost their map and didn’t know how to navigate without it.  They were walking around in wet clothing, in the cold, for days, and hypothermia fucks with your ability to think clearly.  This is a dangerous combination even when one isn’t already primed to look for supernatural reasons for everything.

The fact that this movie could only have existed in that specific time in history, due to the way that technology works currently (it was the early days of the internet, and it was a much different place than it is now), makes it all the more delicious.  I’m not sorry that I didn’t get to see it when it came out, because I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate a lot of it then (I was only a couple of years younger than the actors, being all of 19), but I’m so glad I decided to check it out this week.

Still not ruling out one of them being crazier than the others and going on a killing spree, though…