The chilling faux documentary haunted me as a child and still spooked me today as a sequel opens up in theaters seventeen years from the original's release. The movie is filmed with handheld cameras operated by three film students purported to have disappeared in the Maryland woods with only this footage to surface sometime later. Even though their fates are sealed viewers may fear the plight of the two young men and a woman who become lost rather fast and then are slowly driven insane by a stalking presence that visits them in the night and leaves horrifying gifts outside their tent.
Heather Donahue plays herself as the lead documentarian. She convinces Josh Leonard and Michael C. Wiliams to venture out into the woods after interviewing the locals and hearing all sorts of terrifying stories. Heather insists for some time that they are not lost though both Michael and Josh know they are. On the second night out in the woods all sorts of terrible sounds can be heard but the team can't capture any of it on film.
The horrors grow and the rough shaky angles of the camera only add to the confusion and terror. The dread increases to dramatic as the characters all grow more frustrated and turn on each other. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez know how to draw out the dread and only give viewers a glimpse of the strange occurrences, but a glimpse is all that is needed to generate the fear to make this movie a smashing success. On the tiny, for a film, budget of $60,000, it managed to gross $248.6 million.
The legend feels so real and I understand how a debate once grew as to whether this was a true story as the filming makes one suspect that this could have easily happened. Being lost in the woods is no laughing matter as I had once experienced first hand and all three actors do a nice job depicting the frustration of a weekend trip turning into a much longer and more terrifying expedition that doesn't end well.
That final scene in the house kept me up with nightmares for some time and the way it alludes to the creepy stories told by the local residents set it up to be even scarier. The camera movement isn't too distracting and opened up the genre to other films like Paranormal Activity and Chronicle. The stick figures were made iconic by this film and have had influence even popping in the recent premier of American Horror Story. The film changed the game for some time and made a boatload of cash on top of it. I enjoyed the film upon revisit and looking forward to seeing the new one in theaters.