The Last Broadcast
Having seen both, we can say that the movies don't have much in common. All the similarities come down to the fact that in both films there are characters who record a trip into the woods with video cameras. But that footage is a small part of The Last Broadcast, and The Last Broadcast is also not presented as a documentary for the entirety of its running time. Broadcast lacks some of the key plot elements, as well as the minimalism and creepiness, that made Blair Witch Project a hit.
Broadcast begins as a documentary presented and narrated by David Leigh (David Beard). The documentary is about the "Fact or Fiction" murders, during which three men died in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in 1995. Like most people who followed the story, David assumed that the official version of the story, that Jim Suerd (Jim Seward) ritually slew the people who accompanied him into the woods, was true. But David now has doubts, especially since Jim "died under unknown causes" [sic] in prison.
Steve and Locus, inspired by an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) message sent to their show, decided to do a episode about the Jersey Devil. Unlike the Blair Witch, the Jersey Devil (also known as the Leeds Devil) is an actual folklore entity from New Jersey. It is a kind of chimera creature, allegedly the 13th son the Leeds family, born in 1735. The creature has never been taken seriously, and other than a rash of sightings in 1909 and a couple more in the 1930s, no one really claims to have seen it. Oddly, The Last Broadcast never bothers to give us any background information about the Jersey Devil as it might have been understood by the "Fact or Fiction" hosts. As a result, we're never really sure what they hoped to find.
These events bring us to the "found video," the scenes in the movie which are most similar to Blair Witch. As the footage in the woods begins, Steve, Locus, and Rein follow Jim into the forest. Jim, who has already refused to carry his share of the camping equipment, begins to get more and more moody and belligerent as they get deeper into the Barrens. Eventually Steve and Locus set up camp for the night, and begin the cable transmission, along with Internet and ham radio simulcasts. Precisely what it is that they broadcast is never really clear, but by the next morning Steve, Locus and Rein are all dead or missing. Jim walks out of the woods alone, apparently in shock, to call 911 and report the disappearance of his companions. He is later arrested and our narrator/director's obsession begins, resulting in the "documentary" we see now.
Likewise, Blair's strength lies in its adherence to its minimalist, "this is the footage we found" format, while Broadcast sets up an elaborate documentary framing sequence, complete with droning narrator, and then abruptly discards it. Confusion abounds -- not about the plot, which is crystal clear (we guessed the plot twist about twenty minutes in), but about the reasons for this gimmicky format. With this story line and some decent acting, Last Broadcast could have been a compelling drama, but the narrator's monotone delivery and the show's goofy hosts (who simultaneously manage to be hammy and boring) kill all chances of that. It doesn't help that the documentary footage, only thirty minutes of which we ever see -- and repeatedly at that -- has been mangled beyond repair, making for some of the haziest viewing ever. If Blair's camera work gave you motion sickness, then have a bucket handy for Broadcast.
While some viewers applaud The Last Broadcast as an original effort with a $900 budget (those numbers get lower with each film, don't they?), our criteria remain the same. Whether you make your film for nine dollars or nine million, there's no excuse for such tedium.
Review date: 11/16/99
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