I’m not entirely surprised that the Blair Witch Project is an effective film, though there was a huge potential for failure, realying heavily on improvisation and an extremely gimmicky marketing ploy, the final product is actually an unnerving tale of horror. It relies heavily on subjective POV, and it’s never quite clear what is happening, if anything at all. The character’s physical and psychological deterioation is matched with the increase of the horror, so one is left wondering if perhaps it’s all in their heads.
As far as I know, this is the first example of the documentary format used in horror. Though apparently the first person shaky cam was sickening to many of the viewers in 1999, it’s relatively tame compared to the work of such acclaimed filmmakers as Paul Greengrass. Aside from the nightime antics, the filmmaking is very fluid and quite elegant. The use of the cheap film stock is a nice touch, though it never hurts that I find it uniquely beautiful. The sort of faded and “off” colours remind me of old polaroids, it’s a good look, and the black and white works with what wouldn’t in colour.
As for scares, like most great horror it relies on what isn’t seen than what is. Much like the characters going through the motions in the film, the audience is given a few sketchy facts and our fears and insecurities of what may be lurking in the woods are built on that. They give just enough so that the audience can hold on that something is out there.