By Brendan Rand
I recently watched “The Blair Witch Project” for the first time not too long ago. The film follows three filmmakers, Heather, Mike and Josh, that go deep into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, to make a documentary on a local legend, the “Blair Witch”. The film was unique in telling its story solely through footage captured by the filmmakers’ cameras, which were “found” in the forest a year after their adventure. With this footage-based storytelling, the film never actually shows the “monster” or resolves what is actually be haunting the group. Regardless, I realized after watching the film that even in its absence, the monster in “The Blair Witch Project” still embodies a few of Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Theses.
The monster in “The Blair Witch Project” seems to match Cohen’s second thesis on how the monster always escapes (4). One of the key aspects of this thesis is that despite the characters’ efforts, the monster always seems disappear from sight and come back to continue its reign of terror (4). Throughout the film, there are more and more hints that something else is in the woods and knows the group is there too. At one point, the filmmakers even find that there seem to be people shaking their tent, and later find someone had rifled through one of the group members’ possessions when the group tried to escape. Even with the hints, and despite Heather screaming about something she saw off camera, we still never actually see what is causing all of this to happen. We do know based on these hints that the monster always seems to know where the group is camped out and where to haunt them as it moves through the woods, even though none of the group members ever actually sees it.
The monster also seems to “police the borders of the possible,” as per Cohen’s fifth thesis, in how it seems to be punishing the group for moving from their comfortable zone into a dangerous area when they should not have done so (12). The monster seems to be haunting those that go out into the woods where it lives. In the beginning of the film, where many of the locals talk about what they remember about the witch, one woman mentions a story of hunters that stayed out near those woods and ended up vanishing, similar to what seems to happen to the group. The filmmakers also make a few mistakes while in the woods that could anger the monster, with Josh accidentally ruining one of the monster’s structures and Heather stopping to film everything she can even when the others want to leave. The group took a huge risk going into the woods in the first place, and as the monster continues to terrorize the group they begin to regret putting themselves in danger through their actions, culminating in Heather’s tearful apology on camera in one of the more well-known scenes of the film.
With these two theses specifically, the film is still able to align its monster with some of Cohen’s theses even though the audience never actually sees what is haunting the characters. Based on this, it seems these monster qualities can still apply even when the monster is never actually seen in the story.