Two years ago Lisa Arlington launched The Absence of Closure, a Kickstarter-funded documentary for her MFA thesis about people coping with ambiguous loss – the grieving process for people who go missing. The campaign ended up reaching its modest $10K goal, before Lisa herself turned up missing during production of the film. This might sound like yet another story of Kickstarter creators embezzling funds…except the campaign never existed. It’s all an homage to the original viral campaign for The Blair Witch Project, in preparation for the sequel’s imminent release.
The Blair Witch Project, In Brief
For those unfamiliar with their film history, The Blair Witch Project is a low budget horror film that helped propel the found footage genre into the mainstream back in the 90’s. While the film was in development, the team at Haxan Films aired a segment for IFC’s Split Screen that presented the core mythos of the film as an earnest historical documentary, presenting the fictional disappearance of the film’s main characters as well as the equally fictional myth of the Blair Witch as if they really happened. The film’s mythos expanded with the release of an in-universe website alongside Curse of the Blair Witch, an expanded feature-length “documentary” that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. The film’s efforts at blurring the lines between fiction and reality even extended to the filming itself – the actors were taken out into the woods with minimal information of what was to come, subjected to Haxan Films’ “scenario”. Ben Rock’s five-part series for Dread Central on helping create The Blair Witch Project should be required reading for those interested in all the sordid details that led to the film’s Sundance premiere.
The Blair Witch Project is getting a modern reboot, and is looking to honor the spirit of The Blair Witch Project by playing around with the often murky line between fact and fiction. It started with the film’s announcement. Initially billed as an Adam Wingard film named The Woods, Lionsgate waited until two months before the film’s release to reveal it was actually Blair Witch, a new installment to the franchise.
On The Absence of Closure
At face value, The Absence of Closure Kickstarter account is a perfectly legitimate campaign for a niche documentary film that never got made. Focusing on coping with loss, the documentary planned on highlighting how three people coped with the disappearance of their loved ones. Adamya’s wife went missing after a boating accident. Beverly’s son was pronounced MIA during Vietnam. And James’ older sister went missing in the woods on a camping trip with two friends.
The campaign’s backer updates contain everything you’d expect to see about Lisa Arlington buying new equipment, kicking off production, and interviewing the documentary’s subjects. She even set up a production blog to try and drum up support. But then, production takes an unexpected turn when Lisa stumbles across a video posted by “DarkNet666” to his website. The two get in contact, head out to film on location in Northwest Maryland, and then…radio silence.
The comments section reacted slowly to the silence, as people who chipped in to support a campaign about people struggling to deal with loved ones who vanished without a trace began to suspect that its creator also vanished without a trace. Heartfelt prayers for Lisa’s safety are juxtaposed against frustrated comments bemoaning the lack of backer updates and the likely death of the project. Finally, over a year later Lisa’s friend Kaylee Morgan managed to locate Lisa’s login credentials, confirming Lisa’s disappearance and highlighting the Finding Lisa Arlington Facebook Page as a resource for people looking to help. News articles posted to the page confirm that Lisa went missing with Peter Jones and Ashley Bennett and one as-yet-unidentified member of their expedition, likely “DarkNet666”.
Why This is Kickstarter Campaign That (Probably) Never Happened
Typically, cached copies of Kickstarter campaigns are cached by archive.org’s Wayback Machine. For instance, when the Mysterious Package Company sold its first online-narrative-by-mail on Kickstarter, it redacted all of the relevant details about the project from its page, to preserve the surprise for people receiving the packages as gifts. Even the name of the campaign is currently redacted.
Search for the Mysterious Package Company’s page through the Wayback Machine, however, and you can find all the previously redacted details on the project, including the redacted promo video. The same holds true for Kickstarter campaigns large and small. The only exception I can find to that rule is The Absence of Closure‘s page, which shows a surprising absence of history.
That alone might still be written off as a fluke. But somehow, Lisa Arlington found a way to launch a Kickstarter campaign in February 2014 while simultaneously waiting to create her Kickstarter account on July 2016. Even more surprising? Lisa found a way to post all the comments to The Absence of Closure using a series of pseudonyms, back-dating comments posted in August 2016 to create the illusion of history.
What’s possibly the most surprising part of this campaign is how much it relies on its viewers to be in the know. Without reading articles like this about the campaign, the only way of confirming the link to Blair Witch is by connecting Lisa Arlington the missing Kickstarter creator is the same woman as Lisa Arlington the Blair Witch protagonist, joined by friends Ashley and Peter.
The Modernization of Blair Witch
The commitment to blending reality and fiction through a fictional Kickstarter campaign serves both as a deft modernization of The Blair Witch Project‘s own reality-blending documentaries, and as an impressive feat in its own right. While the original found a way to reimagine low budget documentaries, The Absence of Closure focuses on the crowdfunding scene that forms as an increasingly popular source of funding. Actually launching a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary before revealing its promotional nature would have risked angering fans earnestly supporting the campaign without knowing its true origins. Finding a way to mock up a successfully funded campaign from years past this convincingly is a magic trick I can’t figure out, unless this is Kickstarter’s first foray into native advertising. And even with Kickstarter’s active support, this is an impressive feat.
Details scattered within Blair Witch‘s Kickstarter-based alternate reality game imply the upcoming sequel is going to involve a similar facelift for the next generation of horror fans, with drone and earpiece cameras taking the place of the original documentary film crew’s entry-level equipment. Whether Blair Witch finds a way to pay homage to its predecessor’s scenario-based filming style remains to be seen.
To see how Blair Witch measures up, check out the successfully funded Absence of Closure Kickstarter page, and look for Blair Witch in theaters starting on September 16th.