“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Friday, August 04, 2006

I Almost Watched It

After watching The Village a couple of weeks ago I've been in the mood for the "scary-what's-out-there-psychological-off-beat-I'm-now-afraid-of-the-dark-again" genre. The first film that came to mind was 1999's The Blair Witch Project. I thought about putting it in tonight, but I just couldn't do it.

I'm not a horror movie junkie and I don't believe in witchcraft or anything like that, but boy do I have an active imagination! And if I watch a scary movie at night, especially alone, it will freak me out a little bit. I'll hear every tiny noise in my apartment that night!

I know a lot of people didn't like The Blair Witch when it came out during my senior year of high school. They said it was so stupid that they did all the fake press before hand and built it up to be some sort of "lost footage" of three students who disappeared in the woods. I can see their point. It's tough to keep audiences entertained, especially in the horror movies where everyone is expecting unusual things to happen and the music is all too telling of what's coming next.

But one of the things I really like about Blair Witch is that it is its own film. It's different. They took unknown actors and shot it as though it were really doc footage and "home movies" with people having fairly realistic reactions under stress. Movies just aren't made that way. It was risky and, for me anyway, it works.

The best part about the film is that it is playing with your senses throughout. You hear noises that aren't quite natural coming from every direction. You actually get disoriented alongside the characters because you see what they see.

I'm a pretty discerning person when it comes to plots. I can usually figure out any twists fairly quickly - I figured out that Jennifer Aniston was behind it in Derailed the first time I saw the preview - and I'm always expecting the unexpected. I watch for subtle cues and look at all the details. In spite of all that, though, I can pretty easily allow myself to get drawn in to the world that the movie presents. I can let go of my "that's not real" reflex enough to be affected by the characters and what happens to them.

One of the best ways to get an audience is to keep the unknown unknown for as long as possible. Keep hinting at it but don't reveal the object of fear until the last few minutes. Not being able to identify the "evil thing that is out there" will cause the audience to begin to form images in their minds which will often be more terrifying than anything that could show up on the screen, thus adding to the suspense of the story. This works especially well in Blair Witch because you never actually see the witches. You hear them, you see them attacking the outside of the tent, but you never see any part of a witch throughout. And yet, one by one the characters disappear.

Another thing that I think works is the gradual progression of isolation that the characters face over the course of the film. They start off at home, surrounded by the comfortable, the familiar before heading out to the small town. From there, they visit with everyday townspeople, keeping it relatively normal, almost ordinary. Then they head out to meet with the "crazy lady" on the fringes before reaching a cemetery outside of town and then out to the forest. Little by little they head outside of safety.

The forest is obviously a secluded area and the loss of a map makes it all the more daunting and disorienting. As the group loses a member, tensions rise and there is greater loneliness and fear. Being in a tent certainly doesn't provide the most security either. When they get to the house, you are at the height of your anxiety because it's difficult to figure out where sounds are coming from, you're closed in, the children's handprints make you feel like something terrible has happened to innocence in this place and at the end you're left hanging with the source of fear is never revealed and everything becomes quiet after the camera hits the floor.

I almost watched it. But it's too late to even think about putting it in now.