It’s what you don’t see that can be scarier than what you can see. I’m a fan of this principle and I can see how well this works in this movie. I’ve seen it once before my school’s film club picked it for the Halloween movie, so I knew what to expect the second time around. First time around, VHS, alone, broad daylight; second time, DVD, alone, dark theater.
From the poster: “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary… A year later their footage was found.” That sums up the basic premise of the film.
Since it’s a found footage film, one of the first to start the trend, the cinematography style was revolutionary. Of course, there have been handheld shots in films but not as constant in motion as The Blair Witch Project. Also, because the majority of the footage presented was like something you would find on your home movies, with handheld shots and unpredictable cuts in mini-episodes, I prefer this style over the editing and shots found in intense, contemporary releases.
With films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the filmmakers’ goal is to document the event from their perspective. Depending on the story, the number of cameras involved will be mentioned. In the movie’s case, we are told that there are two cameras; thus, we should see, at most, two different perspectives. The camera serves as a simulated first-person view and we expect that there will be some amount of shakiness involved. If this were told from a third-person POV but allowing the camera to move and edit only when necessary, it would be a compelling movie but with less intensity. Third-person POV shot in queasy-cam and edited in a blender, my mind goes elsewhere; how can I focus on what’s going on if I can’t register what’s on screen?
What also worked in the movie’s favor that we take for granted these days is the marketing campaign. Clues were planted online that stated the movie was real, complete with news footage, photos, and recovered footage; a whole mythology was created. Today, the campaign can range from sweepstakes to alternate-reality games like with Cloverfield and Super 8. Sure we may know it’s a movie but it’s the journey rather than the destination that helps make the movie’s universe more remarkable, granted that the payoff works at the end.
What differed in the theater viewing than the home viewing was that I was able to hear more of the ambient noise; thankfully there weren’t any trains going by this time, a rare occurance when watching movies in our screening room. I could hear more of the whispered voices and nighttime leaf shuffling. This did more to increase the suspense than my prior viewing, even though I knew what was going to happen. The sounds were soft and subtle, a nice touch to the film.
Is it the scariest film of all time? Not in my opinion but I will grant that it is able to carry suspense through the camerawork and editing based on what was given in the narrative. I’ve heard some negative things about the sequel so I probably won’t catch a viewing. Still, a nice Halloween flick.
1001 MYMSBYD selection
Mark! Mark! Mark!