2016 – USA
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Words: C. Abbott
Upon the release of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, audiences were taken aback by the films unique film-making style and a grounded sense of terror. Looking back the film itself has become something of a self-parody, yet many forget just how terrifying and intriguing the original was. The so-called ‘found footage’ sub-genre is now a banal familiarity of Hollywood, but 15 years ago it was a real change of pace for a genre that had become all too stale. This combined with the truly inspired concept of using viral marketing to promote and deceive audiences into believing the events were actually real, made the original a horror icon, and an enduring milestone.
Just over a year later a sequel was produced which is without any form of merit, something the new Blair Witch seems to agree on. Cynically or realistically the ‘found footage’ concept of the first film was a mere gimmick, a gimmick which returns here. Yet as stated, it is nothing new or surprising to modern desensitised audiences, so the twist this time appears to have been the production itself. Shot in secret under the title ‘The Woods’, it was only revealed to be a true sequel merely months prior to release. Looking at the current box office may shine some light of how successful that idea has turned out to be. Yet, the excitement was real, directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, this is a duo with a proven track record of genre bending entertainment, namely The Guest and You’re Next. With this turbulent history in mind, the results had to be at least interesting.
There is an overwhelming feeling of familiarity from the very get-go, we’re introduced to the younger brother of Heather, the protagonist of the original, compelled to journey into the woods to understand what happened to her. He is joined by his student filmmaker friends and is led by a couple whose curiosity into the rumours surrounding the events of the first film seems questionable at best. Things are different this time; they enter prepared, all the tech and emergency equipment: walkie-talkies, flashlights, food and water, first aid and even a drone. The set up works, it may not be new ground, more like cementing itself into the old but the rationale and reasoning is sound. The characters are generic enough to pass and the acting is good enough for the screaming, it’s safe but fair.
And then it’s: Business. As. Usual.
The usual gut punch of pain and confusion sweeps over our guinea pigs and it’s jump scare after jump scare until migraine, followed promptly by death. If you’ve seen the events of the original you’ll be able to predict beat for beat what will happen here. Yet, despite it all, it works. The feeling of hopelessness and futility compounds the frame until you beg for the sweet mercy of the credits. This seems to derive from how the film has viewed the original. All the theories and explanations have been ignored for one, and to sum it up succinctly: Magic is real. This will no doubt annoy many of the fans whose true enjoyment comes from the rich lore of the film rather than the film itself, this is understandable, but in this case it worked here.
Blair Witch is riddled with crippling issues, characterisation is poor, originality is lacking and the knowledge that Wingard/Barrett can do better hurts what is otherwise a sequel that will scare and entertain. What can be taken away from this is that the original film was a lightning in a bottle success and attempts to emulate it are pointless. Despite it all this is worth the money for admission. What it adds to the mythos (or takes away depending on your viewpoint) is entertaining in its own right. It does what you’d expect and it does it well, sometimes that’s enough. But it will be a long time before we’ll be heading back into those woods…