More conceptual art and marketing phenomenon than movie, “The Blair Witch Project” is poised to become the most profitable movie of all time. Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick have learned from canny film- makers like Val Lewton and Alfred Hitchcock — people are much more scared by what they don’t see than by what they do see. The film-makers made a virtue of having no budget for special effects, and left everything to the audience’s grisly imagination. Like some sort of cinematic Rorschach test, as we watch this movie, we are each scared by whatever lurks in our subconscious. The movie’s plot is simply summarized: three film students go into the woods to make a movie about a local legend and never come home. A year later, their footage is found, and what we see is supposed to be what they left behind. Knowing the end from the beginning, the audience is left with 70 minutes of growing dread as the three students become increasingly more panicky and the events turn increasingly more creepy. Then it is over.
Teenagers have always loved scary movies, from the old William Castle movies up through “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream” and “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.” On one level, they provide peer bonding — you have to be friends with someone you grabbed in a moment of terror and it is fun have that shared experience. On another level, there is something cathartic for teenagers about seeing this graphic representation of an uncontrollable id on the loose. It is important for parents to remember that tolerance for scariness is highly individual, and, especially for teens and younger kids, highly suggestible. In concrete terms, there is nothing really scary in this movie, and parents who do not object to profanity should not have a problem with allowing a kid who really wants to see it to go. They should make sure that those who do see it know — promotional tricks to the contrary — that it is entirely manufactured and fictional. And parents should not hesitate to provide cover to kids who seem uncertain about going, to give them the luxury of saying, “I really want to see it, but my parents would KILL me, and they are even scarier than the Blair Witch!”