Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, May 12, 2001

Brett Cousins, left, and his brother Blake, are in town for
the premiere of their movie, "The Night Marchers"
at Wallace Restaurant Row.

‘Night Marchers’:
You’ve seen it all before
in ‘Blair Witch’

By Burl Burlingame

There was a skit on "Saturday Night Live" a while ago in which the cast solemnly swore never to stoop to parodying "The Blair Witch Project" -- but the bit was itself a parody of that now-infamous movie.

You remember the one. Hand-held camera, naturalistic acting, reflected terror, on-line hype that it was "real," enormous profits. Provided you didn't need Dramamine to sit through it, the film was a marvel of packaging and bright filmmaking, massaging as it did a generation of Americans raised on the "reality" of "Cops" and "60 Minutes."

It was so cleverly made that the fact that the movie even existed was more compelling than what it actually was, which was a two-bit, scared-of-the-dark thriller made for peanuts.

It was probably only a matter of time before the TV parodies died down and the earnest attempts to ape "Blair Witch" began. "Night Marchers" is our homegrown example, a Big Island production that has done remarkably well at neighbor island theaters.

Dig it: a documentary "crew" goes off in the woods in search of a scary legend and disappears, and all that's left behind is their videotape. We mentally stitch together the plot ourselves while viewing the "raw" footage. That's the way dreams work -- we impose continuity on mental flash cards of random images -- and that's why "Blair Witch" got under so many people's skin.

But you can only go that route once. In "Night Marchers," visiting documentarians Blake and Brett hire locals Kevin, Kelvin and Orlando to lead them into Waipio Valley in search of the mysterious night marchers, the mages of King Kamehameha's long-dead army. There's a fair amount of shrieking and running around in damp, dark jungles, plus a couple of genuine surprise shocks.

Dialogue runs along the lines of "What the **** is that?" and "What the **** is THAT?" My favorite line of improvised dialogue: "Earthquake, dude!"

The actors/filmmakers are pretty good at looking scared, and the sound is OK. The special effects are modest and consist mostly of digital double-burns.

By any professional measure, "Night Marchers" is gleefully awful. But it does exactly what it set out to do, and delivers, and it's making money for the filmmakers, and so by Hollywood's standards, it's a staggering triumph.

The filmmakers, Blake and Brett Cousins, had much less cash to work with than the producers of "Pearl Harbor," and will likely make much more on the dollar-spent, dollar-returned ratio. I found myself actively worrying about the rain and mud on their little digital camera. One slip, and poof, there goes the entire photography budget.

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