This is another paper I wrote in my film class on how the technology involved in the Blair Witch Project evolves throughout the film and how it showcases the demise of our main characters.
In the film The Blair Witch Project, directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, three college students attempt to show the truth behind a town legend but end up finding more than what they bargained for. The movie is filmed in a narrative perspective meaning it is made by amateur filmmakers and is made from clips found from a student’s documentary about a mysterious tale, the “Blair Witch”. After gathering notes from interviews with the townsfolk, Heather, the leader of the documentary, gathers her two friends, Josh and Mike, to head to the woods for an expedition in hopes of finding the truth behind the witch. To prepare for this trip, they bring two video cameras, their belongings, and the urban legend set in their minds. After getting lost in the wilderness, they begin to fight with each other and Heather seems to trust one common theme: technology. Through the use of technology, the three students detail their terror and demise while searching for the truth. The small pieces of technology such as the cameras and their compass are connected together to show how the three adventurers become the legend they were introduced to.
The technological aspects of the film begin with Heather’s interviews with the members of the town of Burkitsville, Maryland. She begins a discussion with each person on their knowledge of the Blair Witch fable. However, only one of the townsfolk, Mary Brown, has experienced an encounter with the witch. Each interview is filmed in broken up pieces such as the small interviews that form a final puzzle and each puzzle piece is filmed in color. On the contrary, Mary Brown’s interview was fully placed on film from start to finish but in black and white to show the difference between an assumed fact by Mary Brown and opinions made from folklore and tales by the townsfolk. By including the interviews, this film becomes more realistic and does not seem like an average horror flick but as an actual documentary filmed by amateurs. Using this method, the film confuses our audience based on whether they are watching a true story or something scripted. Instead of simply jotting down notes or quotes made by the interviewees, Heather decides to document the entire process on camera. This process is used to make her audience believe that she is not making any of the stories up and they are quoted evidence about experiences with the witch.
Media is most often used in The Blair Witch Project as a way to transition from a documentary to a horror film and back. The trio of students walk into the woods making a project but “leave the woods” with a horror movie for audiences across the country. We, as an audience, realize we are viewing a film in a theater for our own entertainment. But, the characters portrayed are not aware their final days on Earth are being used as a way of entertainment. In reality, we understand this was never meant to be a documentary. But, the technology is used in a way to influence us to have our minds set on the idea that we are watching actual footage and not a movie. The footage throughout the entire film was shaky. Making the footage not seem perfect makes the audience more focused on the fact this is an amateur film. The amateur method gives us a bigger sense of fear so technology not only makes the film; it influences our emotions while viewing the character’s movements. This note is important to follow based on the fact that sensing a possible true story before our eyes could make us more afraid of the world. The film is trying to send a message to be afraid of the worst possible scenario. Even though we know it is not a real student film, the way the characters used their technology made us believe it was made by them and only them. The line between the documentary and a terrorizing theater experience is shown when Heather turns her camera into a video diary:
I just want to apologize to Mike's mom, Josh's mom, and my mom. And I'm sorry to everyone. I was very naive. I am so so sorry for everything that has happened. Because in spite of what Mike says now, it is my fault. Because it was my project and I insisted. I insisted on everything. I insisted that we weren't lost. I insisted that we keep going. I insisted that we walk south. Everything had to be my way. And this is where we've ended up and it's all because of me that we're here now - hungry, cold, and hunted. I love you mom, dad. I am so sorry. What is that? I'm scared to close my eyes, I'm scared to open them! We're gonna die out here! (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999)
During this scene, Heather uses her technology as a goodbye message to anyone who may view the footage. By her looking directly to the camera and talking to the camera, it gives the audience a confused feeling that differs between whether it is a documentary or a movie. Turning the technology into a video diary is the director’s way of making us think more about our visual approach.
Since the beginning of the film, there are constant switches from black and white to color and color to black and white. By using this technological method called desaturation, the viewers are led to believe this documentary is real and we are experiencing what Heather, Josh, and Mike are experiencing. We never truly find out if the “Blair Witch” is real or made up but the way technology plays a part gives us the ability to use our imagination to make our own clear consensus on what happened. The coarseness of the footage as it shifts between black, white, and color gives us a dreamy and creepy atmosphere which better shows the terrifying ang0uish of our three main characters. The black and white outlook serves as a misguided perception to what is occurring while the color represents how technology has become modern through time and is a reality. Films have gone through a variety of changes. In the “Blair Witch Project’s” case, we go through the timeline from black and white to Technicolor.
Looking closely at the differences between the two methods of filming, the black and white is used primarily for the documentary Heather is producing while the color is used for their real-life experiences. The colored aspect of their normal conversations show how unscripted and unplanned the events are and leads us to believe it was not intentional to include color for the documentary and to show there is something truly wrong with the feeling Heather has from start to finish. Her documentary was meant to be mainly black and white but the color is shown when Heather is experiencing real terror such as being lost in the wilderness. However, the final scene is filmed in black and white to show how perception and reality has collided to force the broadcast over the threshold into their lives.
As the young adults venture out into the woods, their use of technology begins to overpower them into putting the film before themselves. No matter how scared or tense events were, Heather insisted for everything to be placed on film. This begins to irk the other two, Michael and Josh. While staring at Heather, Michael states “I could help you, but I'd rather stand here and record” (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999). This moment is a turning point in which the characters begin to place technology before helping themselves and helping their fellow companionships. The film uses this message to convey that most people rely on technology too much and not focus on completing actions the manual way with others. Thus, the cameras and Heather’s attitude of having everything documented starts to drive a wedge between the three friends. Ironically, even the quarrels and constant bickering of having to film everything are caught on the cameras and broadcasted to us for the reason of making us notice the transition from documentary-style film to evidence from an unsolved mystery; the missing students.
The two amateur cameras are also used as the students’ only form of communication to the outside world. With no sense of direction due to Mike destroying their map in the stream, they are stranded in the middle of the woods with no connection to society. To make up for their loss of civilization, they form a bond with their footage. After a few nights of weird occurrences such as cracking sounds in the woods, the trio, but mainly Heather, use the cameras as a shield to protect them from whatever is in front of their eyes and from whatever sounds of terror are piercing their ears. Heather loses trust in Mike and Josh protecting her that she believes this small camera will protect her from whatever danger lies before her. While talking to Heather about why she wants to make sure all the happenings are filmed, Josh states “It's not the same on film is it? I mean, you know it's real, but it's like looking through the lens gives you some sort of protection from what's on the other side” (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999). By making such a powerful declaration, Josh is showing how Heather is strangely obsessed with her documentary and the obsession is placing the act of hysteria in her mind.
This hysteria ranges from freaking out on Mike about a lost map, blaming others for becoming lost, and losing all hope in humanity. It is causing Heather to trust her film more than her colleagues. She relies more on her perception to protect her from her reality even though the two conceptions are clearly identical. Josh taunts Heather by explaining “I see why you like this video camera so much. It's not quite reality. It's like a totally filtered reality. It's like you can pretend everything's not quite the way it is” (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999). Josh is showing that Heather is removing the fear by looking through her lens and trying to make herself believe it truly is only a film. She refuses to believe her life is in true danger; she is still a character in her own documentary. The camera forms a barrier between the legend and the truth. We, as viewers, experience everything on the film because Heather’s main opinion is that the legend is keeping her alive; the documentary must continue in case the worst possible scenario occurs. Through this narrative, her distorted reality is made up of all the tales and scary stories told in the interviews and the fear of becoming a new scary story is always running in circles in her thoughts. Her only method to avoid becoming this legend is to use her camera as a kaleidoscope to alter her sights.
In the final moments of the documentary, we are introduced to a house that traps the last appearances of the amateur filmmakers. After Mike leaves Heather alone in the attic of this abandoned house, her black and white camera is taken hostage by the “Blair Witch” to switch roles. The documentary and the technology Heather has learned to trust are now turned against them to document the reasoning behind their disappearances. Her documentary becomes the villain where this “Blair Witch” that was supposed to be in front of the camera is now behind it. Heather is now the focus point of the documentary and the shield of the camera is shattered since now her eyes are being filmed instead of filming. When Heather realizes the roles of the witch and herself are reversed, she learns that she is now in a state of panic. She is too emotionally unstable to finish her own documentary at this point. The ending that was planned to be just another myth told by the town was turned around to be filmed in the “Blair Witch’s” prospective to show true terror using Heather’s own trustworthy technology. This witch’s prospective is filmed in black and white to show it is no longer a false perception; this image is reality and the reality of the film is what we are supposed to be afraid of. Thus, the witch decides to take matters into her own hands and culminates the documentary by demolishing the lives of the filmmakers.
After the ending credits finish rolling, the many different methods and motives of the technology finalize our thoughts to the film overall. The interviews at the beginning show that this can be taken as an authentic documentary about an urban legend. Their video cameras represent their hope of lost society and civilization while stranded. As the film progresses, technology takes control of the student filmmakers’ thought processes as they put the documentary before their safety. Technology is the only important feature for Heather and her friends as it starts to create an obvious barrier between the legend and them. But in the end, their constant obsession with their technological tools takes advantage of them as it is used to destroy them. After examining their evidence, the final judgment is proven that the true villain is not the “Blair Witch” but it is the technology they overuse. By turning the technology into a villain, they become the legend of Burkitsville.