Blair Witch Reivew

Posted: September 18, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

the-woods-2016-poster-3Written by Daniel Simpson

I remember seeing a trailer for this horror movie called The Woods a while back and thinking, “Wow, that looks a lot like The Blair Witch Project”. Cut to a few months later when the film played at the San Diego Comic Con and surprise surprise, the film is actually a sequel to The Blair Witch Project simply titled, Blair Witch. Well fancy that. I never really had much interest in returning to the world of The Blair Witch Project, and I didn’t think the world was really clamoring for a sequel either, but the announcement did seem to generate a substantial amount of buzz and was enough to pull me in.

The film follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune), whose older sister, Heather (protagonist of The Blair Witch Project) disappeared in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland over fifteen years go. James receives a video suggesting that Heather might still be alive. Searching for closure, James and a group of friends decide to venture into the Black Hills Forest with those who sent James the footage in an effort to find Heather, or at least find what happened. This experience is being documented by film student Lisa Alrington (Callie Hernandez). However after spending a night in the forest, the group begin to be plagued by ominous forces. At first they seem to be strange oddities, perhaps even some sort of trick, but it soon becomes clear that a supernatural presence is at work.

Though the film is technically a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch also feels like a soft remake. I say this because while the film does address the events of the original, very little effort is made to actually further the mythos or the legend of the Blair Witch. For the most part, the film is mostly content to copy the same basic style and pacing of the original film, albeit more broadly. The lack of vision is certainly disappointing, and what’s more director Adam Wingard does not handle the found-footage style nearly as effectively as Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez did back in 1999. While we can debate about the actual quality of the original Blair Witch Project, a clear effort was made to make the film feel as real as possible. Consumer grade cameras were used, the framing was off, the audio was poor, the characters felt everyday joes, the cast was made up of unknowns who weren’t physically distinct (read: beautiful actor types), and the scares were pretty low-key. This is not the case at all with Blair Witch. Not only are the events being filmed by Lisa, but every character is also equipped with a small camera on their ear, other characters bring cameras of their own, and the group even have a drone with a camera attached. The filmmaking and production value is also higher than it should be, everyone feels very much like a movie character (and they’re all played by those aforementioned beautiful actor types), and the scares are a lot bigger than anything found in The Blair Witch Project. All of these choices rob Blair Witch of any illusion of reality.

I don’t necessarily mind that Blair Witch feels more like a standard horror film, the problem is Wingard is trying so hard to emulate format and style of the original Blair Witch Project. I think the film would have been much better off had they dropped the found footage style completely and just made a traditional horror movie set in this world. I realize that abandoning the stylistic element which defined the first movie would have been a huge risk, but trying to replicate the same experience of the original in 2016 just isn’t going to happen. Between the fact that this is the third film in a series, the myriad of other found-footage movies since the original, and the fucking internet, no one is going to be tricked into thinking that this movie is real. At the same time, the level of authenticity found in The Blair Witch Project is precisely what makes it unique, even compared to modern found-footage films. Failing to conjure that just places emphasis on this film’s inability to reach the same heights as the original. My point is the whole found-footage thing is just problematic and it would have been wise to try something new. This is made especially prominent given how incidental it is to the plot. In the original, the fact that Heather was a documentary filmmaker was crucial, it was the whole reason these characters were in the forest in the place. In Blair Witch, the fact that there filmmaking is just kind of thrown in there. It really doesn’t need to be there at all.

For all its flaws, Blair Witch does work pretty competently as a horror movie. There’s a nice sense of mounting tension and some pretty creepy moments, particularly during the last twenty minutes or so. The opening scene of the film is pretty cool too, effectively summing up the lore and the story up to this point while having a creepy atmosphere of its own. Also, while the film doesn’t add much to the mythos of the series, there are a few things hinted at which are interesting and even pretty haunting. All told, if you were somebody who really wanted to see what would be done with the Blair Witch IP all these years later, you’re probably gonna be disappointed. However judged on it’s own merit, Blair Witch is pretty decent and I expect any audience wanting a creepy horror film will be pretty well-served.

C+

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