In 1998 I started writing and emailing out to a bunch of my friends a column which I created called The Couch Potato Chronicles. I would get a lot of calls from these people when they were at the video store (remember those), asking me what I knew about this or that movie. Evidently they thought I was some sort of expert on this stuff.
So I started writing and emailing them little mini reviews on everything I was watching. Over time it grew into a monster which I published and emailed out to a database that was as big as 7000 at its peak. I wrote about 450 columns over a 10 year period on movies, sports, TV, books and a bit of politics. My most famous reader was Steven Spielberg, who sent me a brief email after I published my review of AI. It simply said ‘Thanks’.
After I started to get a following on Facebook, I wound down the longer column, which was averaging 3000-4000 words, and started writing shorter reviews to the people who I was friends with, which was pretty much the same mob that I used to email my column to. Needless to say that was a big times saver.
Anyway, this is the very first full review I wrote for The Couch Potato Chronicles.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
IT SUCKED (ME IN HOOK, LINE AND SINKER)
Well, well, well, another bunch of film students have maxed out their parents’ credit cards and made a movie that did about $100 million at the box office over the summer. That’s just about enough to cover the interest on the credit card. I’m talking, of course, about the infamous Blair Witch Project, which just came out a couple of weeks ago on video.
Now the amount of hype surrounding this movie was so incredible that I avoided it like the plague when it first hit the theatres. My daughter, (15 at the time), always up for a new externally induced thrill, went to see it and reported to me that it was the scariest movie she’d ever seen. And believe me, she does not scare easily.
But her critique was short and sweet and raised more than just a little suspicion in my mind. Scarier than The Shining? Scarier than Repulsion? Scarier Than Alien? Scarier than Dumb & Dumber? Rather than make further inquires and overburden her with having to have a protracted conversation with her dad, I decided that I would make a definite point to rent it when it came out. Which is what I did last night.
First of all, you should know that in spite of the obvious lack of funds, no special effects, no tripod to anchor the camera anywhere in sight, three amateur actors and the kind of bleak weather that would give most cinematographers an ulcer, this is actually a very good film. Which means it’s a hell of a lot better than I thought it would be.
In case you’ve been in a coma since the spring, the story is about three film students who head out to the woods in Maryland to make a documentary about some strange goings-on in the town of Blair, and some ghosts who are said to be undead and kicking in the woods near the town. Throughout the course of the film the kids become hopelessly lost in the ‘haunted’ woods. Yadda yadda.
It starts off as a pretty normal film school documentary and then slowly, skillfully, methodically and in a completely credible way, turns into a very scary ghost story. But this is a different kind of scary.
I watched the movie alone. (The wife was off to do some Christmas shopping and as it was Friday night, my daughter was nowhere to be found). It was literally a dark and stormy night. But I’m not very big on that hokum. No, the scariness induced by this film came from a different place. It came from my own desire to see these people finally walk out of the forest, get in their damn car and go home. I really wanted that to happen. I don’t know why. The characters weren’t particularly endearing. But because they were lost and losing their minds for that reason, it was somehow very easy to slip into an intensely empathetic state of mind.
The film was also shot in a highly subjective way, which made the woods and all the weird stuff that happened there even spookier. The sense of place. The silence. The eeriness, The impending feeling of doom as the days turned into nights. The sheer blackness of the night. The strange noises that always sound more ominous when you don’t know what the hell they are. Without even thinking about it, my mind was inventing thoughts like, ‘What if it was me and my friends out there in that predicament?’ And the empathy grew some more. After a while I started wanting them to be alright more than anything and then I began to chastise myself for caring so much about these idiots. Then something would happen and I would resume wanting them to be alright again. It was hard work.
And then for one brief shining moment near the climax of the film I was actually sucked right into what I can only describe as a Vortex Of Belief. I remember saying to myself…”What if …”. Then of course, I laughed because I know the people who made this film never in the wildest dreams imagined their movie would do that to Mr.-Been-There-Seen-That-Don’t-Need-To-See It Again.”
It would be fair to say that most movies try, in one way or another, to hoodwink us. Blair Witch is no exception. But it does so without the megabucks normally spent trying to create an artificial world where we think strange things are bound to happen.
No, The Blair Witch Project hoodwinks us more effectively than that, by zoning in on our primal fears and superstitions and making them feel all too real right here in the real world. Brrrr. I get chilly just thinking about it.
Jim Murray is a communications strategist, blogger, writer, art director and producer. He creates and implements strategically focused branding, advertising & promotion for companies in the SME & B2B sectors who appreciate solid creative thinking and value reasonable rates.
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