Blair Witch Review
In September of 2016 a movie critic disappeared in London after watching a sequel to the movie The Blair Witch Project.
A week later her review was found.
Whether you love it or hate it, few horror films of the last 25 years have had quite the impact as The Blair Witch Project. Made on next to nothing, they even returned one of the cameras they shot it on to the store to make the meagre budget go further, filmed by the actors, and launched into the world on a marketing campaign of supposedly being real footage of college filmmakers who went missing, it was one of the biggest indie hits of the nineties. A lacklustre non found footage sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, followed in 2000, but for years that was it. In the meantime the found footage style boomed, for better or for worse. Earlier this year it was announced that Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the team behind the delightfully twisted and genre twisting films You’re Next and The Guest, were developing a project called The Woods, a found footage film that promised to revitalise the formula. When it was revealed at Comic Con in San Diego that The Woods was actually Blair Witch, excitement for the film intensified. After all, with such a great creative team tackling a modern horror classic it was guaranteed to be great, right?
If you’re going to make a sequel nearly 20 years later after a film that has such a distinct history in people’s minds, and it’s being made by a duo that are known for putting little spins on genre films, that you should be bringing something new and interesting to the table. The problem then is that Blair Witch is painfully average.
In 1994 James’ sister Heather went missing in the Black Hills woods whilst making a documentary about the local legend, the Blair Witch. He sees footage uploaded to the internet that makes him think that his sister might still be alive. With the help of his friends Lisa, Peter, and Ashley, and Burkittsville locals Lane and Talia, James is hoping to find out the truth of what happened and possibly get some closure. Things, as is always the case in these situations, don’t quite go as planned.
One of the things that made the first film so effective was how firmly rooted in reality it was compared to the found footage films that followed. Everything you saw and heard was raw and right there on camera, no digital enhancement needed. The sounds in the night were creepy because they really were coming out of the woods. The stick figures hanging in the trees were unnerving because they looked like something that someone would actually make. It was done to sell the “this really happened” angle, and it worked. Obviously now everyone knows the truth and so you can’t do something quite like that again, but Blair Witch goes so far to the other end of the spectrum with effects of things being thrown around by invisible forces and deafening noises, this film takes the quietquietquietLOUD formula to ridiculous and headache inducing new heights in almost every scene, that it takes away the fear and just feels lazy because it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. You’re not scared, you’re startled, and there is a lot of difference between the two. The film even has many opportunities to be genuinely scary in ways that are new and different from the first film, but they’re passed by when the film is so rushed. The group have a drone cam to view the forest from above, someone puts a camera in a tree to watch the camp, there’s another camera that could have been looked at for answers as to what happens to two characters, just things that pique curiosity but leave you hanging in a frustrating way.
There are things to like in the film, however. Another thing that was good about The Blair Witch Project was the lore and the back-story surrounding the Blair Witch. It was simple but effective and definitely sounds like something you could hear in a small American town. Blair Witch does maintain the lore quite well, and even adds an element of being unable to look at the witch directly and that the creepy stick figures, which do make a few nice appearances here, are representative of how she was strung up by the townspeople and left to die. The film even confirms a theory I’ve had for some time about the woods and why people perpetually get lost in them. The characters are also pretty likeable, James is a nice guy out for answers and his friends genuinely care about him, and having the addition of town locals who have grown up with the legend is an interesting angle. The film also has a nice answer to the usual found footage pitfall of “why don’t they just drop the camera?” by having them wear small earpiece cameras. There’s also a decent bit of body horror as Ashley gets a cut on her foot which goes a bit strange. One of the final act highlights includes a crawl through a tight underground tunnel that will have even the least claustrophobic squirming a little.
It’s important to state that I don’t hate this film, and I don’t necessarily think it was badly made per se. I even think that many people will find it to be a fun thrill of a film to watch with mates, jump at the loud noises, and have a laugh. It’s simply that as a scary horror film, and particularly as a sequel to such a memorable horror film, it only manages to be just about serviceable.