I love the fact that no one even knew the was a new Blair Witch film was being made until two months before its release. When the original Blair Witch Project came out it was it’s very mystery (with the help of the youngish internet) that propelled it to box office glory and cultural success. I also love that this new film has Adam Winguard directing it who did such fine work with You’re Next and The Guest.
What I don’t love is that this new Blair Witch feels like someone said the original is old, cheap looking and the actors aren’t pretty enough – let’s remake it but make it cleaner. Despite the fact that it claims to be a sequel to the original (and ignores the risible second film, and who can blame them) the new Blair Witch pretty much follows the same plot and beats as the original, only with better looking actors, higher definition and some modern gadgets. The camera crew arrive in the woods, people disappear and things get confusing, they find a house in the woods. That’s your lot. That’s what we got last time and that’s what we’re getting again. It’s like what The Force Awakens did with Star Wars – it has been a long, long time since the last good one, the filmmakers want the audience to know this is definitely a Blair Witch film, so they just did the same story all over again.
Fortunately it is also like The Force Awakens in that it is damned entertaining and does what you hope it would do – freak you out and put you off camping for life. This time the lead is the younger brother of Heather from the original who is all grown up. He sees a new bit of footage on YouTube from what appears to be inside the Blair Witch house and thinks he sees his sister in the reflection of a mirror. So it’s off to the woods again with cameras in tow and bunch of mates/victims/rampant nose dribblers.
Winguard and his regular writer Simon Barrett do bring a number of new things to the table, partly because of advancements in technology but also because they’re a good creative team. Instead of old mini DV machines they have miniature hook-over-the-ear mini cameras. They have small remote cameras they can set up around the camp and, best of all, they have a drone for creepy ariel shots. Well they would have… the ear cameras work as a good short cut to multi camera multi point of view images and edits, helping to keep the action flowing. However the other cameras do very little with the rest of their tech, the drone being a particularly pointless addition as it leads to not much more than a narrative cul-de-sac. I wanted the drone to fly up and reveal some thing watching them from a far or the gang being next to a way out of the forest all along. Instead the drone gets stuck in a tree. Great.
There are a few other weird and wasted set ups like this too. One of the girls gets wounded crossing a river and inspection of her cut reveals something growing inside her foot. Later she pulls out a small worm from her leg and… well that’s it. We never hear about it again. I’m all for adding mystery to a plot, and in a horror movie these things don’t always have to be resolved, they can just add deeper background to a story, but these elements here just seem like red herrings and half baked ideas.
Other additions work better. The crew find themselves forced into bringing a local couple along with them and this causes tension the moment black crew members see the confederate flag inside their house. The fact that the couple seems not only trustworthy but also don’t trust the crew adds another good layer of ill feeling.
There’s also some really creepy and clever use of time to confuse our protagonists. This was explored a bit in the original, and even in Book of Shadows, but they take things much further with a blink and you’ll miss it twist I certainly didn’t see coming.
Of course this all well and good but the big trouble with Blair Witch is, you guessed it, the found footage approach itself. Nevermind the need to explain how and why everything is being filmed, again, or the irritating shaking camera and screaming whilst something off screen wails its death cry. Nor even the that once, yet again, the film ends with NOT REALLY SPOILERS IF YOU’VE SEEN ANY FOUND FOOTAGE MOVIE someone being dragged off into the dark as the camera falls over. No the problem is… it is over, we are done with found footage, there’s nothing left to say that is new with it. In the years since The Blair Witch Project we’ve had possessions, hauntings, zombie invasions and evil moon rocks. I’m spent, exhausted and bored of found footage. No one cares anymore. Okay, I know I say this all the time and then along comes The Visit but honestly this time I’ve had enough.
Saying that… the final act is really intense and pretty scary. Returning to the house from the original is something I wanted to do. I think last time we only spent a couple.of minutes in it, this time its most of the final act and we get to see a lot more horrors in it. The most terrifying moment involves some incredibly narrow and claustrophobic underground tunnels that are so tight right you can barely breath just from watching it. These scenes DO lend themselves really well to the found footage sub genre with its tight points of view, unknown things lurching out of the dark and plot points there for the eagle eyed.
In fact the whole return to the witch’s woods is a terrifying proposition and a welcome one for the horror fan. If Winguard and Barrett’s plan was indeed to make an updated and slicker version of the original with a few new ideas and a more satisfying climax (although only MORE satisfying not actually answering anything) then Blair Witch succeeds. However if it was something new and different then maybe you should try Blair Witch 2: Book.of Shadows. Oh no actually don’t do that, it’s woeful.