Up until last month, my youngest brother had never seen The Blair Witch Project. I must confess that I hadn’t seen it in some time either as “Found Footage” movies usually make my eyes roll into the back of my head. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed a few films belonging to that particular sub-genre, but I certainly feel like the bad ones out number the good.
As Jonah was not alive when the movie debuted, I informed him of the controversies and panic that surrounded the film upon its original release before we began our viewing. You may not remember, but the film was marketed as a real life student documentary gone sour instead of a full fledged independent movie.
Love it or hate it, the movie holds historical significance, not just for inventing the found footage genre, but for its smart use of online marketing before the term “viral campaign” even existed. Missing person posters were distributed to audiences asking for help finding the three leads. The movie was terrorizing audiences before they even found their way to the theater. Part of the scare lay in the mystery of whether the events unfolding on screen were real or not.
To my surprise, my brother found it terrifying even knowing the movie was fake. Growing up as a city slicker, the thought of being lost in the woods with a witch possibly hunting him was more than enough to send him scurrying under his blanket. The movie doesn’t really show you anything and that’s part of its ingenuity. All of its scares are inferred. There are moments in the movie when the camera lens becomes obstructed for seconds at a time, bathing the screen in black. However, the audio is still playing and in those moments the audience is free to conjure their own version of events in their head.
Many current generation found footage movies go too far in the opposite direction. They choose to show too much and I would argue that is what has led to the decline of the sub-genre. Throwing CGI, effect heavy monsters into these types of movies is a horrible mistake in my eyes. Those films that capitalize on ambiguity are far more effective in their scares. The Paranormal Activity franchise is a perfect example of my point. In the first movie, they did not show you the demon, they simply showed how the demon effected the home he had invaded. As the franchise grew older, it began to show more and the quality of the films began to dip.
The moral of the story? Show us less, found footage filmmakers. Our imaginations are scarier than anything your computers can render.