Director’s Blog: Thoughts on the Rough Cut Screening Part 2

Some more thoughts on the reactions to the rough cut that we showed people a few weeks ago:

When producer Charles Mulford and I were discussing a much earlier draft of the script a few years ago, he expressed a little concern that it might not be scary enough. I asked him to trust me, because I knew that if we executed the movie properly, there were moments in the script that were going to play much scarier than they read on the page. That’s true for any horror script, honestly, but it’s especially true, I think, for found footage.


What I love about found footage, when it’s done well, is that it grounds a story in the world that you and I inhabit. Blair Witch did this brilliantly. It feels so much like a true documentary that you forget—on a visceral level, at least—that you are watching fiction. And that makes everything that happens in the film more frightening, because you don’t have a buffer like you do in the larger-than-life heightened reality of a more conventional movie. Getting lost in the woods is scary. Finding that you’ve hiked for a whole day and ended up back where you started is terrifying. Finding a piece of cloth with what might be your friend’s bloody teeth? I’m not even sure how you’d begin to process something like that in the real world. In a more conventional movie, these would be first-act mood setters (and they’d probably be accompanied by heavy-handed musical score just to make sure you knew you were supposed to be scared), but in Blair Witch, they are profoundly unsettling events that foretell the rapidly approaching climax of the film. Such is the power of properly executed found footage.

At the screening last week, I was vindicated, I’m happy to say. The moments that got the biggest gasps were not the supernatural shenanigans that happen toward the end of the movie, but the much smaller and more grounded moments that take viewers by surprise in the early stretch. These are moments that could (and sadly do) happen in real life. And while I’m proud of the script and I can claim some bit of credit as the director, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the actors who really make these moments work. Not only have they created performances that really make you believe you are watching real people, but their reactions to these moments truly sell the fear. They don’t react like horror movie characters, they react like you or I would in the same situation.

So often in movies violence happens without consequence. Someone throws a punch that would knock someone cold on their ass, and instead they wipe away a single drop of blood and commence their counterattack. Action heroes get shot in the leg and soldier on for another 45 minutes like it’s little more than a mosquito bite.

But in the real world, every act of violence has consequences, and there can often be a very fine line between minor and deadly. And we know this. It’s why hearing that someone you love got into a car accident will set your heart racing until you find out that they are okay. And that sort of fear is something very, very different from what you usually experience in a movie theater. It’s realer and rawer and much more uncomfortable.

As I said in my last post, there are some things that happen in FF3D that I always intended to invoke this more dangerous kind of fear and horror. There’s a lot of the safe kind as well, but don’t expect to make it all the way through without wondering whether you might not have been better off staying away.