Nothing like a romp through the woods, eh kiddies?
Let me start by saying that whilst I always try to keep my reviews spoiler free, in this case I may touch upon a couple of plot points that the six of you out there over the age of ten that haven't seen this might get something given away...so you are duly warned:)
I really have trouble deducing why this little offering is so maligned...I mean, sure, it had some rough camera work and a couple of plot holes...even with that, it's somewhat (like a million light-years) above the standard low-budget horror film, and it had the audacity to have believable characters and a clever pre-release marketing campaign that alluded to the 'truth' of the story...
How DARE they try to make us believe this is true and then turn out an almost devoid of blood or gore or even a glimpse of the 'monster' film?
To my mind, genius.
Having grown up in the southeastern United States, and having spent several years of my life in the military, I'm no stranger to being in the woods at night...from as far back as I can recall, my family has always camped (and by that I mean tents, backpacks, the ground as your bed and so forth...sleeping in an air-conditioned Winnebago with a 'fridge, microwave, toilet and a DVD player, while perhaps fun, is NOT camping, friends), hiked, and spent a LOT of time in forests.
Given that, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that when the fire has ebbed to coals and the moon has made the branches above you into cobwebs of shadows, you hear some pretty freaky stuff...and I mean even if you HAVE spent a lot of time in the outdoors.
This movie touched a nerve with me (and a lot of people I know) because it took us to a place in our own experiences where we wondered just what the hell was tramping around out there in the darkness while we sat vulnerable, far from help or home. Add to that a well thought out, well-executed plan to get the theme of the film into our consciousness, and you have a recipe for just out-and-out terror that did not require big special effects, spurting blood, or hideous 'thing' in the woods to cause a considerable "pucker-factor".
People complain about the camera work; yes, it's shaky...it's supposed to be amateur filmmakers...are there any of US out there who have impeccable camerawork in our OWN home videos? In times of duress?
Hmmm...don't see many hands....
In my opinion (for what it's worth), I think the erratic movements added to the tension; we experience the frantic, panicked moments with the characters, building the dread and suspense.
People complain about how the characters get so hopelessly lost...well, though it isn't implicitly expressed, I thought the impossibility of walking for hours and winding up in the same spot was the influence of the witch on their minds (which could also explain the whole "map" fiasco; although that is one point I DID find stupid) or their compass...I mean, if we're going to accept the concept at all, why not assume she can do that? There ARE places on the earth you can go where compasses go haywire, and magnetic/geothermic undercurrents cause disorientation and confusion in humans...these woods are supposedly cursed and under supernatural sway, so I don't think that's too big a hurdle to jump.
Lastly, a lot of people gripe that you don't actually 'see' anything...well, neither did the characters! Just as with the 'hand-held' camera work, THIS is the beauty of it; we the viewers share/suffer the SAME experience, SAME terror, SAME despair that the characters themselves do. Let's be honest; if in the last ten minutes some haggard mannequin or CGI 'witch' had come bursting through the wall and eaten the camera, would that have REALLY been a better film?
I honestly feel that expectations were too high, people figuring to see some James Cameron-ish take on the haunted woods story, and were left feeling cheated; in other cases, I think some people are just PO'ed that they bought into the 'truth' of this story and were so completely suckered...but regardless of either of these possibilities, I feel the film is very effective...very scary.
My recommendation: Turn off ALL the lights in your home...watch the "Curse of the Blair Witch" mockumentary first, and really open your mind to the concept...THEN watch the film.
If it doesn't creep you out, you're made of some pretty stern stuff indeed.