I photographed Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez for the first time in April 1999. Their film, “The Blair Witch Project” had been a stunner at Sundance a few months earlier and editors and writers at The Village Voice were intrigued. Then, as the July opening approached and the buzz around the film was getting deafening (kind of like the noise of a chain saw), we did another shoot with Dan and Ed, now for the Voice’s cover, and a feature (shot on Polaroid 665) that included the three actors, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard.
I had worked alone with the filmmakers in the spring. (Well, we’d also had lots of the Blair Witch beautiful/creepy stick figures–I still have one.) This time the studio was full of people–Meg Handler, the Voice’s photo editor (and my good friend), art director Ted Keller, hair and makeup artist, assistant, publicists. We hung the painted backdrop and held the rented real branches (with fake pasted-on leaves) in place with C-stands. It was Sunday, July 11, Meg’s birthday. My photo of the directors was on the cover of the Voice (with the portraits of the actors, semi in character, inside) on Wednesday, July 14. “The Blair Witch Project” opened at the Angelika on Friday, July 16 at midnight and the world witnessed the birth of a monster. (“The Blair Witch Project,” created for around $60,000, famously went on to make $250 million globally.)
The latest installment of the legend, “Blair Witch,” (directed by Adam Wingard, written by Simon Barrett, Myrick and Sanchez credited as executive producers) is not the original. But what could be? “Found” documentary footage and a viral internet campaign were new and exciting in 1999. But the new film is horrifying–and I mean that in the best possible way–making great use of the expected shaky cam, jangly and crashing sounds, music (composed by the director), fast cuts, jarring video artifacts splashed large across the screen.
James (James Allen McCune), a college student, was four (as was the audience this film is targeting) when his sister Heather disappeared in the Black Hills Forest near Burkittsville, MD, with her friends Josh and Mike. Long-obsessed with finding Heather (he says, “closure and answers”), James is cautiously hopeful when his online alert is triggered by newly uploaded grainy footage containing the briefest glimpse of a woman resembling Heather in a ruined house in the woods. He sets off to meet the man who discovered and posted the video, with three friends, Peter (Brandon Scott), who remembers the search for Heather, Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a film student who supplies sophisticated gear–earpiece cameras, a Canon DSLR and a drone.
The four naifs go into the deep, dark woods, guided by Lane (Wes Robinson), screen name, Darknet666, a menacing local (his home decorating scheme features a wall dominated by an oversized Confederate flag) with an old DV camera. His girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry), blonde with purple highlights, quietly tags along.
Of course things rapidly go wrong. Crossing a cold stream, Ashley gouges the sole of one of her feet. (Her bloody wound later briefly supplies an “Alien” moment, but the tantalizing development is dropped). Night descends and plunges the group into total darkness. An evil presence bears down (a bear would be good news), occupying the night. After minimal and fitful sleep everyone awakens to discover that standard and elaborate Blair Witch figures dangling from trees have them surrounded. Terrified that the legend is real, the six frantically try to retrace their steps and escape.