Scented Screening: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Last night I hosted my first “scented screening,” and it was so interesting and fun! We watched The Blair Witch Project (1999). Light spoilers ahead.

This movie was a fun one to scent because while the setting is basically consistent throughout—they’re in a forest—I could use smells to play up emotional undertones. The pacing was crucial as well: it was slow enough that adding another sense to the mix doesn’t compromise the viewers’ attention. The action is also somewhat ambiguous, leaving room for scent to play with our interpretations of what’s happening onscreen.

How it worked was simple: I dipped paper strips and passed them out at key moments; generally one scent every 10 minutes or so. Some were raw materials or a mix of raw materials, and some were perfumes.

I used Nuit de Bakélite by Naomi Goodsir to set the tone: green, insomniac, unsettling, with plasticky notes evoking camera equipment. 

Chris Rusak’s lo, with its incense and woods, signaled that we’re in the midst of something ritualistic.

I used Hiram Green’s Hyde for warmth and subtle sweet undertones, inspired by the way the characters try to cope and get comfort from each other in a terrifying situation.

Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange: a notorious scent for a notorious scene. I wasn’t sure how my audience would take this scent. It’s like a brick wall of stale sweat to me, but I hoped it would smell like BO, snot, and raw fear. To my surprise, the audience actually found the scent quite pleasant! They said it smelled fresh, or like cotton. I wonder how much they influenced each other on that one, or how much I’ve been influenced by descriptions of the perfume.

Finally came Moth by Zoologist, a musty haunted mansion. One audience member disagreed with this scent choice—he said it was too pleasant for what was happening onscreen. I liked that reaction, because then we could talk about what kind of scent expectations we had and how we all thought the setting should smell.

Overall it was a fun way to further engage with a classic movie. What scents would you choose for The Blair Witch Project?

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