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Edinburgh Festival 99 Wednesday, 25 August, 1999, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Blair Witch: The disappointing truth
Blair Witch: The film makes it hard to get attached to characters
By BBC Scotland Arts Correspondent Pauline McLean

The Blair Witch Project
Edinburgh Cameo, 21 August

A flurry of interest on the Internet is the reason for the huge pre-release publicity surrounding this film. Not so much word of mouth as word of mouse, but certainly more effective than the modest $10m dollar marketing budget Hollywood has allocated it.

Edinburgh Festival 1999
Having devoured every inch of the Website with its coroner's reports and detailed police statements, not to mention the acres of copy devoted to the legend of the Blair Witch herself, I'd love to tell you this film lives up to the hype. Sadly, I can't.

The premise is that three student filmmakers set off to a wood to make a film about the legend of the Blair Witch, burnt at the stake and now wreaking her revenge on the community.

There have been a string of creepy goings on, from the vanishing of small children and the search parties who followed them, to a serial killer's assertion that he carried out his grisly deeds because of a woman's voice in his head.

The filmmakers used classic horror techniques
So far so scary. Although our brave heroes - and assertive heroine - don't seem to think so, laughing merrily in the face of local testimonies - "We don't ever go up there", "I don't believe in ghosts but there's something strange up there", "When all the children died we sealed off the woods".

But before you can say Classic Hollywood Hype, they've abandoned their car and hiked off to the woods to search for the evidence.

Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick do a good job of keeping the tone light for the first part of the film. It's a classic horror technique - think Jaws and the happy scenes before the carnage or Carrie and the sunny graveyard scene - but in Blair Witch it just seems to make the action drag.

True, there are signs of odd goings-on: stick icons hung from the trees, piles of stones outside their tents and weird noises in the night but it's lessened rather than heightened by the amateur video footage and the poor sound.

There is a sense of being the fourth person in the party, even if the continually jogging camerawork means you have to keep using your imagination. But it just can't be sustained for an 80-minute film.

It's hard also to get too attached to the three characters. True, they are very real and their frustration and later fear at being genuinely lost in the woods - Sanchez and Myrick gave them a map and pick-up points, deliberately starving them and sending them in the wrong direction for effect - comes across. But it becomes a frustrating and ultimately fruitless experience for the viewer too.

The Blair Witch Project has only a couple of minutes of truly breath-taking fear and that comes at the very end of the film. Whether you can forgive the 78 minutes of tedious build-up before it is quite another matter.

The Blair Witch arrives in the UK this Halloween and word of mouth is unlikely to knock her down as quickly as she's been hyped up. She'll have another moment of glory before disappearing back into legend. And wishing filmmakers with greater vision had seen the true potential of her scary tale.

See also:

25 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
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