The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project ★★★★½

Cinema is a problem, and it was a problem before Griffith, who was part of the problem, even hit the scene. Latter-day screen culture, like a teenager discovering themself for the first time, is too in awe of sensualism to stop and address the problem. This film does, a fact greatly amplified by its populist context.

There is nothing cool about some tired, starving, lost kids who died, but we'll endure it anyway because it's supposedly "real" and as post-war, post-modern nightmare geist dictates we're morbidly fascinated by snuff (a subgenre of which witch-snuff is surely the greatest?) or because we're baited by the hoax-artifact, which amounts to the same morbid fascination, and is the real Real. The film does with witch-hunt, medieval or McCarthy, as mode of collective psyche, what Chainsaw Massacre does with degenerate abattoir filial schematics as Nixon's buried secret America. Better yet, it's about filmmaking, and wants to bash you over the head over and over with that agonic instance, not in which film "pierces reality", but where reality pierces film. Experience is already a painful 24-hour movie in our heads without some dipshit waving a camera in our face. We're here to make a documentary about a witch, not a documentary about us getting lost? Wrong, Mikey. This film exploited the emotional fragilities of its brave (and excellent) cast, but never without the ethics in mind, it seems. Think on this, because other films won't allow you.

Thing is, my ability to express in words what films do to me relies heavily on the strength of my reaction. Films that underwhelm me leave me unwilling to write anything or I'll write something lacklustre. Then there's films like this where there's SO MUCH going on I don't know how to articulate it all, which ends up making me resent all the drug abuse, chronic illness and trauma my poor brain has undergone. Films like this make me want to start reading philosophy again. Then I could talk about how we as viewers in our contract with the subjects of the self-contained image exist within a figurative extension of Plato's Cave. Or how The Blair Witch Project establishes a renewed coaxial curvature away from both primitive dialectics and Aristotelian linearity by instantiating a unique reactionary multimedia event (seriously, fuck Cannibal Holocaust.) Or how Heather is a failed ego-ideal projection of her mother whom she has disappointed to the point of being sent to her death. Or how the witch is a necessary Jungian sigil of alterity in the communal dream economy. Or how the witch, who never bothers to show up, is significant purely in her absence (see: Dreyer's Vampyr), infusing the image with negative space, in a hauntological Lacanian admonition. Or how we ARE the witch in a deep-tissue Zizekian analysis. Or how Heather's inmost dread is a manifestation of the fear/desire generated by dual phallic sandwiching. Or how the verité video image itself is inherently insincere and untrustworthy as an article in Benjamin's age of mechanical reproduction. Or how the whole clever-clever post-genre conceptual refraction is atrocity itself, screaming, per Adorno. Instead of all this diversionary name-dropping bullshit, I could bust out my Golden Bough and come from an occultist angle, and I don't mean cinema as an occult exercise, as bad magic (which is far more interesting to me personally), but the very roots of witchcraft in obscured history, and the restive beast of folklore, and what it all really means.

Or I could just get personal and talk about how unbelievably awesome Josh's taste in music is (Lydia Lunch, PIL, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus, The Creatures, Laibach, I mean c'mon!) and how much I loved that CD and I don't even like Type O but Haunted is the greatest romantic metal song of all time, and I discovered it here first. Or how when this film first landed, you have to understand, we didn't know what "found footage" meant, and it was completely out of the blue. It was the sort of film that worked best when watched nonchalantly on late-night SBS without any kind of intro. One of my friends was cycling through Europe and got lost in the rain and pulled over to a dingy little cinema in some country town and saw this film thinking it was 100% legit and it blew his poor mind to smithereens. I remember not being scared by it one bit whilst watching it but, afterwards, when walking home alone through the dark dark woods, was I spooked? You fkn bet I was. I had a thing about tree-tops for months after that. I can't explain it. And that's the rub. Something happened with this film, something which is still happening if you let it, that just can't be deciphered with a few academic ejaculations and a glass of pinot.

The Blair Witch Project is unlike any other horror film, one of the ten best and most original ever made. It has an auratic quality that extends beyond its runtime. It wants you to think about what you are watching and what it is doing. It is your friend. Watch it again, read some essays by Brakhage, and then maybe give cinema a break for a while. Thank me later.

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