It's difficult now to imagine a time when every movie didn’t have its own social media team. Or when there weren’t dozens of websites dedicated to promoting every single aspect of a film months before it made it to a movie screen. But in 1999, that was very much the case. The World Wide Web had been around for a little while, it was becoming a huge force in our daily lives. It had grown out of its infancy and was now into its adolescence trying to figure out what it was going to be.
Movie studios didn’t know what to do with it. They might get their films a web page, throw up a poster, some stills and a little blurb about it, but that was more of an afterthought. They still relied heavily on traditional media to get the word out.There were some fan sites like Ain't It Cool News that pieced together whatever information they could find on upcoming movies. Insanely sometimes, the studios would actually try to shut these sites down.
Then came The Blair Witch Project. A tiny little, low-budget, indie horror film realized the full potential of what the Internet could do for them. The official website featured fake police reports and interviews with locals that augmented the found-footage concept of the movie. They did everything they could to make their story - about a group of students who went missing in the Maryland woods after making a documentary about a made-up folk tale - seem as real as possible.
It worked too. The Blair Witch Project was one of the first things ever to go viral. I remember my buddy Charlie e-mailing me about it and telling me I just had to visit their website and check it out. There were other websites and forums set up for people to discuss the movie and its made-up legends. Some people even thought it was real.
I went to see the movie opening weekend and loved it. It was a truly terrifying horror film. It didn’t invent the found-footage concept, but but they pretty much perfected it. By allowing the actors to carry their own cameras, it fully immersed me into their experience. I’d never seen anything like it.
Even though my brother bought me the DVD for Christmas, I never watched it a second time. At the time, I truly thought it was a great film, but I recognized it was gimmicky. Once I’d gone through the process of watching it the first time it didn’t seem like it would ever be able to give me the same thrill.
Audiences seem to have felt the same. While The Blair Witch Project was a huge hit, becoming one of the most successful independent films of all time, we pretty quickly moved on culturally. A sequel was released the following year but by then nobody seemed to care.
Because we live in a world in which every movie ever made now gets a new sequel or a reboot or a rehashing, there is now a new Blair Witch movie. This one completely ignores Book of Shadows, the sequel made in 2000, and instead tries to connect directly to the original film by having the brother of one of the kids who died in it camp back into the woods in search of information about what happened to her.
Normally, I’d not pay much attention to this sort of thing, but after listening to the filmmakers on a podcast the other day, I became intrigued. We live in a very different world than we did back in 1999 and trying to reinvent the cultural cache that the first film garnered is nigh impossible. Making an interesting, scary film set in that universe might be fun. Or just as likely it will be terrible. I'm willing to take that chance. We’re are also in that dull release period just after Christmas and before the new major releases of 2017 start coming out, so I didn’t have much other choice but to make Blair Witch my pick of the week. [Read Kent Conrad's review.]
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Mars: Ron Howard created this half fictional/half documentary series about our desire to send a manned mission to the red planet.
Denial: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, and Timothy Spall star in this based-on-real-life story about a journalist who was sued by Holocaust deniers for libel. That’s a good cast, but the reviews have been lukewarm.
Girls: The Complete Fifth Season: Shouldn’t they start calling this show "Young, Privileged, Whiny Women" by now?