October 31, 2017
Halloween is the one holiday out of the year where scarring your friends and neighbors half to death is socially acceptable. What better way to get into the scary mood than by watching a few horror movie classics?
While there can be many horror movie genres, I like to focus on films that either accomplish their intention of actually scarring me, or presenting a high-quality story line that explores complex themes. “Get Out” (2017) and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) accomplish both of these tasks.
Quality Rating: 9 out of 10
Scare Factor: 5 out of 10
“Get Out” is both a comedy and a thriller. The balance between these two polar opposite genres is difficult to achieve; laughter and terror usually cancel each other out.
The fact that there are many humorous qualities in this movie is no surprise since it was written and directed by Jordan Peele, who is best known for his standup comedy and directing style.
Peele realizes that paranormal situations are often much funnier than the way other movies portray them, and he captures how real humans would react in these situations.
The main character, photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), meets the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), for the first time.
Race is an important factor in the film: Chris is African-American, and Rose’s family is Caucasian. While this may seem like an odd distinction to make, it is relevant to the rest of the story.
Chris meets the parents, who are beyond nice but make self-aware jokes about their “stereotypical white-bread family” to the point of trying not to seem racist themselves. This is likely to distract from the fact that they have all black servants – maids, groundskeepers and a butler.
Chris’ conversations with these servants and companions are one-sided. They are shockingly lacking of any thoughts. They speak as if they have absolutely no conception of any reality beyond cooking, cleaning or caring for their designated family.
He reports his growing suspicions to his friend, Rod Williams, played by Lil Rel Howery, who works for TSA.
When snapping a picture of one of the families, Chris forgets to turn off the flash. The light seems to snap one of the “companions” back to reality, sending him into a panic. “Get out! Get out now!” he screams at Chris and then he rushes for the exit.
The unraveling mystery is both scary and hilarious, but most importantly creates a disturbing reflection of society.
“The Blair Witch Project”
Quality Rating: 8 out of 10
Scare Factor: 9 out of 10
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999) gave birth to the found-footage genre, meaning the movie is actually shot by a character holding a camera. Imitators have yet to truly replicate the terror of this movie.
The issue I have about found-footage movies, like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise (2007), is the highly unrealistic behavior of a character continually filming the unnatural events taking place right in front of them, and often at great peril to the film-maker.
In “The Blair Witch Project,” however, these are students making a movie for class. They continue filming for a grade and for the sake of their final project. Not because the concept of “found-footage” demands them to film.
Heather Donahue, Michael Williams and Josh Leonard are actors, playing themselves as the characters in this film. They are investigating the legend of the Blair Witch in the Black Hills of Maryland.
They interview the nearby town, trek deep into the forest to follow up on some research and gradually become lost in the woods.
The students deny this at first, convinced they’ll find their way out sooner or later. Slowly, they begin to panic. What was supposed to be one night turns into two. Two nights turns into a week.
It is so easy to empathize with the characters because of how realistically this was filmed. As an added feature, even the actors at the time were not told what was going to happen to them or how they should film themselves.
Similar to their characters, the actors were also thrown into the forest with minimal interaction, making it all that more real.
The crew remained out of sight so that the actors’ reactions were genuine. They break down in tears, losing hope that they will ever escape after going in circles for days. There is no physical threat, but they soon realize that they are not alone.
In this movie, you never actually see a witch. The villain isn’t what’s scary; the situation is.
The dark, unknown woods are suspenseful. However, while the jump scares from some CGI abomination is surprising the first time, it does become silly thereafter.
The students aren’t in danger because of a witch, necessarily. They’re just lost, swallowed whole by an unfamiliar forest.
Could all their fears just be the product of their overly stressed imaginations, or is it something else, something evil? “The Blair Witch” Project is a slow-burning descent into madness.