I decided to watch The Blair Witch Project (1999) as my first movie to use as a case study. The Blair Witch Project was the first film shot in a found footage style, and was controversial on its release as due to the style it was filmed people were unsure if it was real or fiction, so much so that some viewers of the movie sent sympathy cards to the cast members families. The film follows three student documentary filmmakers hiking through the woods in Maryland filming a documentary of an urban legend, the Blair Witch.
The reason I believe this film to be a good example of effective ambient sound and sound effects is because the whole film is shot through two handheld cameras. Making all of the sound we hear in the movie diegetic from the microphones on the cameras. This is clear right from the first scene when the car is picking up Mike and we hear the radio of the car getting louder as it approaches, as well as sounding very obviously tinny, due to it being diegetic from the cars speakers. When interviewing the three filmmakers before they leave we also hear the sounds of traffic and car horns in the microphones. I think that these sounds are left in to highlight the style of the film right from the beginning, being filmed handheld amateur style. The reason this technique is effective is because it makes the film seem like a real life event that is happening, rather than a fictional movie.
The third night in the woods is when the team start hearing the sounds around their tent. In real life the sounds they hear are the production crew at various distances in different directions snapping large branches and throwing them towards the tent. In the film it is again heard on the camera microphones and the crew cannot describe the sound effectively, they say it sounds like large animal footsteps. The same noises are heard each night. Every sound that they hear we hear at the same distance they would as well though as they are just using the camera microphones, which works very effectively to create tension.
During the fifth day we hear the story that Mike kicked the map away down stream which angers the other two. They then begin screaming at him, which due to their proximity to the camera mics begins distorting.
Other than the first scene as they drive up in the car to Mike’s house, there is no music in the film. I think this lack of soundtrack music adds to the effectiveness of the style that the directors were trying to create in the found footage style. Another thing that effectively brings fear and tension to the watcher is that throughout the whole film, even at the end scene, the witch is never seen by the audience which works in the same way.