Director – Adam Wingard
Cast – James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of The Blair Witch Project. I am, however, a fan of director Adam Wingard’s work and was pretty stoked when I first watched a teaser for his newest film, The Woods. Little did I, or anyone else know, The Woods was secretly Blair Witch this whole time. It’s not quite JJ Abrams’ level of viral marketing, but it worked. Wingard, writer Simon Barrett, and Lionsgate had everyone fooled when the truth was unveiled at 2016’s San Diego Comic Con. Unfortunately, if you believe this effort will reanimate the success or impact of The Blair Witch Project then you are still being fooled. While this effort dishes out some solid scares that left me riddled in goose bumps, everything else Blair Witch has to offer is a tiring reminder of why good found-footage films are few and far between.
Since the age of 4 James has been living with unanswered questions over what happened to his sister and her film crew when they went missing in the Burkittsville, Maryland woods while investigating the local Blair Witch legend. When video from a camera found in the woods is uploaded to YouTube, James sees what he believes to be his sister. Confident that she is still alive, he takes two friends and a film student on a trip to Burkittsville to find her. Accompanied by the two locals who found the footage, the group embarks on an overnight trip that leads them face-to-face with the Blair Witch.
Writer Simon Barrett rehashes the story seen in the original film, but of course adds a few additional twists to the mix. To start, each member of James’ crew wears a video camera that attaches as an earpiece. They are also outfitted with flashlights and two-way radios. Then, there is a poorly used drone camera that adds almost nothing to the story. One additional element I did like is the inclusion of local folks. Instead of 3 hikers we are provided 6 of them, and for me that made this more engaging (at first).
When I say Barrett rehashed the story, I mean it. Of course, this would not be a Blair Witch film without our protagonists getting lost and stalked in the woods, so it pretty much had to go that route. The same conflict that happened in the first film happens here, which is surprising given James had to have seen the found footage of his sister and should know where she and her crew went wrong. Sadly, the story goes wrong on many occasions. There are unexplained (and seemingly unnecessary) elements of horror. For example: there is a scene where someone in the film crew suffers a foot injury. That seems like a normal thing to happen during a hike through the foods. Where it goes wrong is the injury is supernatural, and ultimately has an insidious effect on the victim. It is OK that the character was written to have an injury and therefore be a burden to the group (especially when it is time to run away). What hurts is how silly the after-effect is. Is the witch making her sicker? Is something growing inside her? You’ll never know, and once the film is done you’ll realize you don’t even care. It is a wasted opportunity to maybe improve on the template established by the first film. This is even more the case when you consider how ineffectively the drone was used. It could have added a unique perspective to the flick, but no. It is merely fodder. This all leads up to the biggest letdown of the film – the use of its characters. With twice the protagonists as the first entry I was hoping for double of everything, from tension, to conflict, to death. Only one of those was doubled for this effort. While I am admittedly not a big fan of The Blair Witch Project, the character play is incredible. It truly feels real and the dynamic between the protagonists is what keeps the viewer engaged throughout. That proved to be the hardest thing to replicate here. Instead, we are given characters you will not care for. This is because they make moronic mistakes, they are not fully expanded, and ultimately they do little to move the story. All they can do for us is die.
So does the story get anything right? Yeah, it does when it comes to the scares. The kicker is we finally get to see the Blair Witch, and on several occasions. These scenes all take place during the final sequences of the film, which also make for the point in the movie where you should wake up and start watching. We learn a little more about the lore behind the witch and how her powers work, which include manipulating the forest and time itself. You’ll experience a good amount of kills, although you sadly won’t see them in an effective full-frontal method.
Adam Wingard is the biggest reason behind my initial excitement to see this film. His direction of You’re Next and The Guest is great, and he did well with the V/H/S efforts. As far as filming goes he did well in executing the found footage format. I enjoyed the use of each character donning a mounted camera, which made this easier to watch than those where the cameras are carried (some do get carried here at times). The filming location is solid and provides for some spooky scenes that would not be possible without a heavy dose of sound. Without the majority of the film’s horror out of sight we are left to infer what is going on and Wingard pounds your eardrums into submission. At times it did feel like the sound was unnatural though and intentionally brash. Equally unnatural are the acting performances, which also negatively affected the character chemistry. Wingard ultimately succeeds at scaring the hell out of me during the final sequences, where the Blair Witch makes her appearance during the payoff. Without giving too much away, the film takes its sweet time drawing out the final sequences to achieve supreme levels of tension. I was impressed with the locations used as they provided heart-pounding claustrophobia and the ever-long fear of what lies lurking behind every corner. Too bad the rest of the film isn’t like these scenes.
Overall, Blair Witch has to be one of the biggest genre letdowns of this millennium. With an esteemed filmmaking duo at the helm you would think they deliver a sequel that lives up to the pre-wide release hype created by horror websites impulsively pushing the film. Don’t buy into the hype, and don’t pay premium movie prices for this. Blair Witch contains everything that is wrong with found-footage films and the too-little-too-late scares can’t save it.