Off-Screen Horror: The Blair Witch Project

In 1999, The Blair Witch Project became one of the highest-earning independent films of all time. It popularized the found-footage horror genre, created one of the first online viral marketing campaigns, and became an urban legend in its own right. However, while we’ve all come to accept that it was just a well-made, fictionalized movie, it may surprise you to learn just how real the film was.

Behind the scenes, there was no official script, set, or camera crew. The directors hired unknown actors with improvisation experience and essentially left them in the woods for 8 straight days, providing only food and basic instructions in a box each morning. The actors were told to film each other 24/7 and act as natural as possible. In order to further ensure they got truly authentic reactions, the creative team also played “pranks” on the actors, such as shaking their tent and making scary noises outside. The so-called “hauntings” that the characters experienced in the film were actually experienced first-hand by the actors themselves; the only difference was that the actors were most likely aware that there were no witches in the woods.

Of course, the actors always had the basic option to quit the shoot and walk out of the woods–on one particularly rain night, the three of them actually did end up leaving to spend the night at a hotel. So this production wouldn’t be considered criminal. But, on the other hand, it’s interesting to see how audiences are drawn to real incidents of human suffering. The Blair Witch Project became famous for a multitude of reasons, one of which being that it allows audiences to see the authentic reactions of these people responding to real evens that are happening to them in real time. Does this change the ethics of watching such a horror film, now that we’re no longer viewing actors on a soundstage but rather real people involved in real incidents? Does it matter that no one got hurt, and that the actors voluntarily chose to keep filming and to distribute the media? The Blair Witch Project opens up the floor to many such questions, both about the film’s plot and the backstory surrounding the film.

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Alexa Samaniego

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