19 The “Uncanny” in The Blair Witch Project
A couple years ago, I remember scrolling through Netflix with a friend trying to figure out what movie to watch that night and seeing a movie titled The Blair Witch Project in the “Trending Now” category. My friend freaked out saying “it’s so scary and messes with your head because you never see the witch and don’t know if it is really there or not.” This reaction reminded me of how Sigmund Freud writes that “we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar” (418). I remember watching this psychological thriller about three film students traveling to a town to collect documentary footage of the Blair Witch, with a goal to prove if it was real or not. During the film they encounter strange sounds, wooden dolls, mysterious piles of rocks, strange bundles of sticks, runic symbols, and are chased, yet we never see the Blair Witch.
Freud explains how the appeal of the “uncanny” is undeniable and we enjoy the weird. The film doesn’t want the audience to escape from the confines of the camera and focuses on us as the audience to experience the same fear and anxiety as the characters in the film. The fear is created for us by only what we can imagine and hear. By not being able to witness or see the Blair Witch “the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation” (423). The film is made to look like we are watching the film students’ encounters of there raw documentary footage, so we are unsure if it is meant to actually be real or not. We are made to look through the “spectacles or spy-glass” (pg.423).
In this scene the film students realized they are lost in the forest and are trapped. They start to lose their calm state of mind and begin developing anxieties and fear when realizing they have been walking in circles. They realize they have come to the same river and log before. This is a feeling of the uncanny since it was “an involuntary return to the same feeling of helplessness and of something uncanny” (427).