Epilogue, Part III
by Steve Sutton
It has been three days since I saw "The Blair Witch Project". My nocturnal patterns have somewhat returned to normal, although Iím only sleeping about three hours a night. My wife has consented to see the movie this weekend, mainly to see what has affected me this way. Curiously, the same word keeps coming up when discussing my response to BWP.
Iím called Ďobsessedí.
In fairness to everyone concerned, I have behaved differently. But obsessed? Maybe. Maybe not.
If anything, Iíve been captivated with trying to figure out why I canít get this damned movie out of my head.
Iím not an obsessive person by nature. In fact, Iím somewhat lax when it comes to protocol. I had enough anal retention in the Army, and with the exception of demanding that my kids behave respectfully, I really donít obsess about anything. Iím what people in the 60ís called Ďlaid backí.
The more I reflect, the more I realize that there isnít one single reason that Iím so taken with BWP. There are several.
First, there is the obvious rationale that it is a compelling movie. The acting is either very well done, or spontaneous (as some websites have alleged.) As I outlined previously, it is unique and has created its own mythos.
Next, there is the not quite so obvious theme regarding the nature of fear. What is scary in a movie? For about 35 years, since "Psycho", Hollywood has forced us to believe that gore, violent deaths and crazed lunatics with knives, axes, shotguns or monsters with huge teeth or acidic blood are really frightening. The problem with this logic is that in life we donít usually encounter the situations we see in these films. And when we do, we donít make the silly choices the protagonists make. We donít open that closet door, or get in the car, or look under the bed. We would instead run, fight, climb or find a way out. Hence, these movies arenít really scary -- theyíre just gross.
BWP breaks this Ďgore-festí mold in many ways. There are no knives or guns, no chases, no monsters, no giant lizards or chilling musical scores. There are just three young adults who donít realize how badly they are in trouble until it is too late. The choices they make we could see ourselves making in similar situations, and this is precisely why it is so fucking scary. Their motives are ours too.
- Lost in the woods but donít want to admit it? How about the motivation of the female leader who is obviously struggling with her position as boss. She doesnít want to undermine her credibility by admitting an error. Continually filming is her way to escape the reality that she feels. Indeed, the oppressive weight of getting them lost is only balanced by her denial of the fact that they are lost.
- Mad at your female leader and wondering if she is capable? Well, this silly map isnít helping us anyway so Iíll just kick it into the stream. Then, Iíll keep it secret. My secret, and my empowerment. I now have exercised some control over the circumstances that surround me. Even a bad choice exemplifies power -- the power to have decided.
- Find yourself caught between two warring factions? You have to make peace with both sides, and in a situation that counts. Thatís a lot of pressure, and when you donít get treated with respect (that you feel your wisdom demands) itís easy to clam up and just not offer any input. If they donít want my ideas then Iíll just keep quiet even though Iím sure we are making mistakes here. That way I can say ĎI told you soí when she screws up and when he blows up. Plausible deniability is my route.
These are the real-life decisions that people make. The constant joking and mindless banter is just a defense mechanism used to hide a variety of emotions like fear, desire, envy, greed, etc. Occasionally one of the three will spout off a truly wise thought, but this will be followed by the other two joking about it. The only way to equalize everyone is to subject everyone to the same sharp knifeís-edge wit.
Then there is the theme of kids being killed. For anyone who is not a parent, and letís face it, the target audience is the 17-25 band who is by and large single, the descriptions of the childrenís deaths is disconcerting. The loss of innocence and the failure to protect oneís progeny are compelling to anyone who is a part of the human race. But to a parent there is no evil more dread than the torture and murder of a child.
ĎThere but for the grace of God go Ií are the thoughts that echo in every parentís mind when a tragic story leads the evening news or appears in the headlines of the Metro section during breakfast. In BWP, the noises at night sound like children at times -- are they laughing, or are they screaming? Any parent will tell you it is sometimes hard to tell, even in the comfort of oneís own home. In the woods at night? Forget it.
The handprints on the walls of the house are some of the most disturbing images in the entire film. Are they in blood? One would assume so, but the impressions are so clear after all these years. Or are the handprints fresh? When the Hi8 camera is dropped on the dirt floor of the basement, right before Heather comes down, that sod looks pretty loose and fresh. It doesnít look musty and old, does it?
Finally, there is the mystery of the Witch herself. With the exception of the crazy old woman named Mary, no one has seen the Blair Witch. Even the fisherman only saw a wispy cloud rising from the stream. Could have been fog or steam, right? The lack of evidence, hence the reason for the documentary, is a very interesting theme. Certainly, we all are fascinated by the supernatural -- whether we believe or not. To prove the existence of a ghost, or to disprove the myth, well, these are noble cinematic desires.
This whole theme is played against the well-grounded, logical thought process that Ďthere canít be a ghost because ghosts donít existí. I call this the Deliverance motif. Are there crazy folks in the woods hunting them? If so, how do you explain the compass readings and the rocks and slime? Well, you donít. The producers wanted a supernatural slant and they purposefully lead the viewer to accept that there are evil forces -- non-human forces -- at work.
Forget all the archetypes and symbolism and get down to the main reason that most people will be drawn to this movie. It attacks you on your home turf, where you feel safe. Just like Hitchcock was lauded in his generation for the unusual camera angles and use of light and dark, the camcorder image, running with the 16 and Hi8, the full screen darkness (with sound), broken only by a flashlight beam, the continual screaming (Heather), the frantic tones while searching for Josh -- it all adds up to give the viewer an experience not seen before in film.
Hollywood will not gamble anymore, with feature films costing $200 million dollars and more. Independent films have to lead the way. I donít think there was any coincidence that this movie opened opposite "The Haunting". This is a trend-setting movie. Iím sure it will be copied by others and will expand. Maybe in some larger and more progressive cities and towns small theatres will be saved. Perhaps not. The vast majority of film audiences has become passive, and has come to expect the even keel camera angles, the neat scripting, the predictable finish. This movie breaks all the rules, and we eat it like ice cream on a summer night.
When you boil it down, "The Blair Witch Project", is captivating and unnerving, but more than anything else, my compulsion is probably equally caused by the fact that Iím at that point in life where mortality seems more real. Iím 33, and I do mind dying.
Today I went to buy tickets for me and Robin, and ten more of our friends to see BWP next Friday night. Mind you, I cancelled an appointment or two so that I could stand in my suit in the heat, and 90 minutes later, when I got to the window, I discovered that pre-sale is limited to two days in advance.
I began to argue with the attendant, but soon realized that it was 1:55 and the next show started at 2:00.
"Just give me one ticket to the 2pm show," I stated flatly. After I paid, as I stood in line for a soda, I called my bossís voice mail.
"Sorry, but I canít make our 3:00 conference call. I got hung up downtown. Letís try tomorrow at 10:00."
I sat in my seat, the lights dimming around me, and I thought about writing to you, and expressing all these thoughts and emotions. I thought about fear, and I thought about my own mortality.
As Heatherís apartment slowly came into focus, I stopped thinking.
And I still canít get it out of my head.
Steve is from Houston.