August 1, 1999 [The Blair Witch Project]

My sister used to frighten me with stories of the Jersey Devil, how a woman living in the Pine Barrens during Colonial times sold her soul to the Devil and in turn gave birth to a demon that emerged from her womb and immediately flew up the chimney.  She also insists she once saw "something" perched atop a holly tree outside her bedroom window.

The Blair Witch Project, then, filled me with perhaps more dread than it intends--then again, its terror is less childlike, not so easily shrugged off.  The long middle section, in particular, in which the young filmmakers squabble and wander, certainly out of their element but not yet terrified--more interested in laying blame and revealing just how unprepared they are for a long walk in the woods--served to heighten my anxiety: There they were, ignorant of their own deaths, snipping at each other, complaining about imagined slights as well as their director's actual confusion, slipping farther and farther from the present into the stories they'd heard of murders and rituals that slowly emerge from the underbrush, bundled up like twig-and-vine changelings to steal them away.

About ten years ago I was walking through a local cemetery--well, they call it a "Memorial Park," with flat markers and shrubbery, trees and marble statuary, a sunny and pleasant place to walk.  But in the crook of a small tree I found a tangled collection of sticks and rags, a sign without meaning--but which made me feel like someone out of Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown suddenly realizing how short a distance he had to travel to be all alone.  Imagine my surprise when more extravagant versions of that little bundle appeared in the movie, as though I were being reminded that one should pay attention, that messages are being sent--and that one should be very careful not to forget the stories told about houses in the woods waiting way out there where you're lost.


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