Even fiction, especially when it is disguised as documentary, is a direct route to people's emotions when it holds the promise of possibility.
With $35,000 and an eight-day shooting schedule, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made a simple little home movie that earned $100 million by the end of its second week in release. Creeping at no charge through the new Internet underground, the movie bubbled up into the American consciousness, where it exploded somewhat ridiculously onto the covers of Time and Newsweek. A clever website planted the possibility that this documentary-style film just might be rooted in truth-the Orson Welles syndrome, where even the possibility of truth lodges in the public mind. Is there anything to this phenomenon beside the hype that has proven the power of young people and the Internet?
The movie begins with an expedition and ends with found evidence. We all react to the lost camera on Everest, to sunken treasure, to pictures of Shackleton's voyage. Even fiction, especially when it is disguised as documentary, is a direct route to people's emotions when it holds the promise of possibility.
The amateurishness of this movie adds to its wallop. It's easy to imagine three unremarkable students arming themselves with cameras for a college project exploring the myth of a local witch. As they head off into the woods around Burkittsville, Maryland they enter not the forbidding, distant woods of a place like Alaska, but the ordinary eastern woods where we might take a daily jog or a weekend picnic. These woods are familiar, and menace in the familiar is frightening.
The two boys, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams (the three actors use their real names), are typically disheveled and only partly convinced of their mission--dragged out of bed, so to speak, in support of Heather Donahue's determination to find out what's out there. Slowly and very surely they lose their bearings, falling victim to the universal fear of being lost. As fear bores in, trust unravels. You can feel the audience responding, each member thinking, "What would I do?" The cleverness of the directors lies right there, in the fact that the audience is distinctly uncomfortable. They too are lost in the woods.
It's easy to list the faults. Heather's voice is grating. She uses the f-word relentlessly: it has lost its shock value in our contemporary culture and now merely indicates a poverty of language. You can get mighty bored watching a jumpy camera shooting 90 minutes of underbrush without much dialogue or action.
You may think the movie is terrible, and in many ways it is. You may wonder why the kids forgot their cell phones. But if illusion captures you easily, you may feel cold, wet, tired, and scared. Heather may be right when she says, "It's very hard to get lost in America these days-and even harder to stay lost," but we also know it's possible, and when something is possible, we're vulnerable. It's the silence and the sound of branches breaking under the footsteps of a stranger.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 493
Studio : Artisan
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 1h20m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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