Analysis of The Blair Witch
The Blair Witch Project just as any other film needs to follow a strict set of codes and conventions in order for it to evoke the genre effectively. The Blair Witch Project follows horror conventions; this makes the film easily recognisable to the viewer as a horror film. Tzvetan Todorov, Roland Barthes, Claude Levi Strauss and other theorist’s theories can be easily located throughout. Conventions help the viewer to realise the genre of the text they are watching/reading, within a very short amount of time.
According to Sigmund Freud we watch Horror films because the exposure to violence fulfils our primeval urges. Humans are naturally aggressive so we watch horror films to gratify our ID (inner desire, natural instinct to kill). Whether we watch them sub-consciously to satisfy our ID or consciously, the reason we watch them is to expose ourselves to violence legally and maybe even morally.Tzvetan Todorovs ‘five stages of equilibrium’ theory is a pre-made base to every film we see, it helps to give the film structure and organisation. The five stages of equilibrium in the Blair Witch Project are:1. EQUILIBRIUM – When the group of students making the documentary are preparing for their trip, collecting everyone for the trip, introducing everyone, the journey there, asking locals about their knowledge of the legend of the Blare Witch, even the opening scene of their documentary is part of the equilibrium.
2. DISEQUILIBRIUM – When they begin getting lost, even though Heather ensures she knows where they are, when the eerie noises begin, and the weird stick shapes and stones.3. RECOGNITION – Realisation of being lost, when the map gets kicked into the river, the stones appearing to follow them, when they are in the tent at night and someone seems to be outside and when Josh goes missing.4.
ATTEMPTED RESTORATION – Attempting to find Josh, trying to find the way out of the forest, trying to find the car.5. RESTORATION – The legend was proved, they were dead.6. The RESTORATION allows for EQUILIBRIUM in a SEQUAL.Tzvetan Todorovs theory is a basic convention seen in every film.
It helps to evoke any genre effectively because in each genre the stages of equilibrium are similar. E.g. In horror films, Recognition is usually when the first person is killed, when they realise they are lost. Also, it keeps the film structured; therefore the viewer will be able to follow the story easier.At the beginning of the film, the characters seem to be excited for creating their own documentary.
They seem happy and act just as any happy student would with their friends, goofing around, having a laugh. Quickly though, their mood changes, once they have gotten to the woods where they are to shoot their documentary and realise that the happenings are not normal, such as the stones appearing to be following them around and then they realising they are lost they become scared and conflict arouses. This brings me to my second point, the theory of Claude Levi Strauss; he produced the theory that texts are constructed around a series of opposition. Whether this is done deliberately or not, the text does appear to be full of opposites:* Humans – Supernatural* Youth – Age of the legend* Civilisation – Isolation* Night – Day* Female – Male* Realism – Documentary* Utopia – Dystopia* Truth – Legend* Black ; White – Colour* East – West (from Wizard of oz)* Heroine – MonsterThis convention creates a strong contrast between the two, having strong contrasts in texts allows for dramatic change surrounding the opposites, it can also create tension, suspense and the change of mood in the characters and the text.Semiotics help to change moods, trigger a memory, set the scene (in a moving image), and make you associate a style, theme or colour with a mood, occasion or product. The Blair Witch Project uses Semiotics throughout to create different moods and to define the change from normal life to the horror/documentary/legend life.
Roland Barthes was a theorist of Semiology, he noticed the above. The film starts in colour, it reflects reality/normality in their lives at that given point. It also reflects their happiness and excitement. The first black and white scene is the opening scene of their documentary which is set in a cemetery, it evokes uncertainty and a morbid/eerie feeling to the scene, which is what they were trying to create. The students went into the woods to shoot a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch, but they end up becoming part of it this is shown by using more and more black and white nearer the end of the film, this works because it creates the un-known, not knowing what colour things are is naturally frustrating for us, so it makes us uncomfortable watching it. We tend to associate black with death and white with purity, so this colour reflect the purity and innocence of the young students and then the torment and frustration and finally the anger they went through.
Pathetic fallacy is also used effectively in this horror film. Although the weather stays quite the same throughout at night is when the action happens and in the day they just struggle to find their way home. We associate day and light with life and safety, as do the actors when they say ‘it’ll be sunrise soon and then we’ll be safe’, also when it is night, it makes us uncomfortable, struggling to see anything but darkness, it almost puts us in the characters position. Pathetic fallacy helps to evoke the horror genre well because at night we are most vulnerable because we cannot see what is surrounding us, this is why watching someone (like in the Blair Witch) running, scared at night makes the viewer uncomfortable.When the students go into the Woods they are automatically vulnerable allowing themselves to become victims very easily, the secluded location is one of the conventions of a horror film.
They leave their car in a place they would find very difficult to make their way back to if they needed too. They also leave a bottle of water on top of the car, a vital component of life/survival, this shows that they are in danger. Because of when the film is set there is no means of communication, no mobile phones, no wireless internet and laptops. At night they are particularly vulnerable due to the reasons I have stated above. The map gets kicked into the river adding to their vulnerability and creates conflict between the group. All of these make the characters vulnerable; the characters need to be vulnerable to make it easier to believe they are victims.
Conflict is an important convention of horror. It splits up the group, ensuring that they can’t come up with a plan to escape or they don’t work together to overpower the villain. In The Blair Witch Project the conflict arouses when they realise they are lost, when they start blaming each other for certain things and when Heather carries on filming even though they were all trying to survive the situation. The ultimate situation that caused huge arguments is when Josh kicked the map into the river, making them vulnerable and wanting to blame Josh for being lost. Expletives are used in horror a lot, aggressive words with strong sounds, helps the audience to understand how frightened the characters are, it also adds to the aggressive nature of the film just as conflict does.
Another convention of horror is that the main characters go to the killer, intentionally or not, they end up in the killer’s hands. This is shown quite simply in The Blair Witch project with them trying to find their way out of the forest, but they end up at the killers house accidently. Also the first person to get murdered is the one who doesn’t believe in the legend/story, the one that thinks everything is a co-incidence, the one that is the most immature and the one that is segregated from the group due to conflict. When the first character gets murdered, there are a series of clues before hand, usually only the main character believes that something bad is going to happen and the rest just discard it thinking its strange but nothing serious. Also the murders happen near the group or action, making it more frightening thinking that someone can get murdered so close without anyone noticing until it’s too late. Josh in The Blair Witch Project was the one that Heather and Mike were arguing with, he wasn’t taking the situation serious and he was the most immature, he also was killed close to Heather and Mike.
So that Heather and Mike would hear and try to look for him, maybe the villain knew that they would end up at the house eventually.The main character in horror films is usually a young female, who leads her friends/group into trouble causing some of them to be killed. Horror films use the stereotype that women are weak and not good leaders. The characters are usually youths, this is because horror films tend to be aimed at teenagers and having the characters similar ages allows the viewers to put themselves in that position making the film even more frightening.