The Blair Witch Project (1999) gets a lot of (deserved) credit for its influence in modern horror, spawning a decade and a half of handheld camera horror from the terrible (Paranormal Activity) to the brilliant (REC, The Last Exorcism), but I think it doesn't get enough recognition for how restrained it was. It suggested things in a way that defied immediate understanding or interpretation and forced you to strain your imagination harder, looking for explanation. That final shot in the basement particularly. It blew my mind when the camera caught the man just standing there facing the corner. That was not how horror movies ended! What did that even MEAN? And yet it was undeniably haunting. It stuck with me even more because I had no idea why it freaked me out so much.
This was a movie that got you to scare yourself, and did so very effectively. My memory and impression of the Blair Witch Project is partly based on the movie itself, but it is also based on the things I imagined on that car ride home along the back roads of Nova Scotia, and of the laughter and shared experience of my friends and I scaring one another.
I also have trouble separating my feelings about the movie from one of the most terrible things I've ever seen.
On that car ride home, we hit a cat. There was a thump, and then, after we stopped the car, there was a horrible wailing sound from the dark behind us. We had been scaring one another for a full half an hour by this point, and we were in the middle of nowhere with woods on all sides of us. None of us wanted to get out of the car to see what was making that sound, but eventually we did. The cat we hit wasn't dead, but it was only a matter of time. Part of its head had been crushed so that it stuck to the road, and the cat was flailing its body around that fixed point, making a sound that was more human than animal.
Sometimes a thing is so horrible that you find yourself in a confused place where you are living a combination of the horrifying reality and the romance of the STORY of the horrifying reality. You start seeing things the way you are going to look back and see them, this bloody mess of a dying animal coming right in the middle of that haunted feeling a good horror movie leaves you with. With nothing explained at the end, I was still in the world of the movie when I left that theatre, and so watching that cat die and burying it in the woods by the side of the road became a part of the Blair Witch Project for me.