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The Blair Witch Project

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Shoestring independent production that purports to be the "found" footage of a trio of student filmmakers who disappeared in the Maryland woods while shooting a documentary on a local ghost story. It shows an intelligent awareness of its own limitations, and a practical aptitude for making do. There is, to begin with, a built-in excuse for the substandard image of color video interspersed with 16mm black-and-white, as well as for sound quality so poor that we have to rely at times on the characters' verbal descriptions of what they are hearing. The incomplete coverage of events, though more complete than plausible under the circumstances, adds to the illusion of reality, as do the unknown actors (who keep their own names in their fictional roles). And the elusiveness of any evil beings, the invisibility of them, observes the dictum of the filmmaker-within-the-film: "I don't want to go cheesy on this. I really want to avoid any cheese." To each of these points of commendation, there is a downside. The film looks and sounds pretty awful. And the youthy characters, especially the irritatingly talkative and interruptive co-ed at the head of the production team, are so unappealing as to make you not so much fearful for their safety as impatient for their demise. (Not so different, after all, from the youthy characters in mainstream horrors such as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.) And the overall feel of the thing is of a long slow road to very mild thrills. It would doubtless deserve an "A" in any college film class (co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez are not long out of the film department of the U. of Central Florida), but a different standard obtains in a movie theater. Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard. (1999) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R

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