Blair Witch – 3 out of 5
Whether you enjoyed or hated it, there’s no denying that The Blair Witch Project fundamentally changed filmmaking and viral marketing for movies. When I saw the film in the summer before I went to college in 1999 it had a profound impact on me. I was blown away with how realistic the feature felt and it scared the hell out of me—something few horror films can accomplish. Now, 17 years later a new sequel (let’s ignore the 2nd film that came out in 2000, shall we?) has arrived. Does this one live up to its predecessor or is Blair Witch just another one of the many cliché and formulaic “found footage” films that followed throughout the years but was unable to replicate the realism that Project had?
The horrifying reality is that this sign is hinting about when its okay to
make love to this tree.
James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of the missing film student Heather and he’s been obsessed with getting closure ever since her footage was discovered in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. After discovering some footage online that leads him to believe she is still alive, he teams with some of his friends, two locales who claim to know the woods, and a young filmmaker hoping to document the journey and together they set out to find the truth. However, they soon learn the horrifying reality of what happened to Heather and learn that the legend of the Blair Witch is terrifyingly real.
I was actually pretty exciting to see this film because I’m such a fan of the original film. At the time, “found footage” films just weren’t as prevalent as they are now and I had never seen anything so realistic looking. I’ll be honest and say it scared the hell out of me but also fascinated me because it was such a marvel of unique filmmaking and marketing. Since then, I’ve come to find the horror sub-genre that is “found footage” to be lazy and wholly unrealistic but the trailers and promotion surrounding this newest film had me a tad bit excited and had me hoping that they were going to recreate the original’s magic and expand on the mythology. I was a tad disappointed in this arena.
The weird part was when the Blair Witch put this girl's hand in warm water.
One of the biggest problems that Blair Witch suffers from is the fact it feels very rushed and terribly underdeveloped. The interactions between characters feels like forced exposition and the other elements like character development or the fact that they are filming a documentary about James trying to find Heather feel superfluous and like they are quick to be left behind. In the first film, you see the crew dedicate a lot of time to giving off the feel that they are really making a movie and there are sequences that show that but in this one, you get a moment where you see the equipment they’ll use and a single moment of voice over work and then, beyond that, they are just filming for filming sake and the whole film ends up taking the vibe that plagues all modern day “found footage” movies.
You have to make sure your makeup is perfect before you march towards
death in a haunted forest.
Sequels are a difficult thing to create and when the first film is as groundbreaking as The Blair Witch Project was the mountain to climb to make something that builds but forges its own path while moving the mythology forward becomes even that much more difficult. Often sequels resort on just making things bigger so you don't notice that the new story is just rehashing the previously told tale and therein lies the problem with this movie.
Plot Twist: The snot in this movie is red!
Too much of the film is just following in the footsteps of what came before. The motivation to get to the woods may be slightly altered but a lot of the journey to get there feels far too familiar—a problem that is occurring a lot as of late in our new era of cashing in on nostalgia. However, once the story enters the woods, there isn’t the subtle terror that made the first film what it was. Blair Witch is big and loud and wastes too much time repeating the same scare over and over again for nearly an hour—it relies way too heavily on making loud noise to make you jump or having a character suddenly pop into frame; it makes the feature very tedious. I understand the path that the filmmakers are trying to take with this one by making it bigger and more about the cat and mouse aspect of the supernatural entity that is terrorizing the kids but, in doing so, it eliminates all the charm and essence of the first film.
No, it's not what you think. He's peeing.
Matters aren’t assisted by the fact that this film, unlike the one that started this all off, doesn’t feel real. The performers in Project looked frighteningly realistic in their reactions due to the unique circumstances of the filming and it was in this sense of legitimate reality that made the film incredibly engaging. Blair Witch lacks this due to all of it feeling like a performance rather than looking real—which is a common problem in the sub-genre of “found footage” horror films. Most of the performances are okay and passable but there are a few of them that are too bad to take seriously and that is saying a lot because the original film had real townspeople as extras and they were giving off better performances than some of the cast members in this film.
Okay, I'll be honest: This was hard to watch. I'm claustrophobic.
Still, Blair Witch is not a total lost because it’s in the film’s final moments where it gets incredibly scary and worth the viewing. At this point, the film is still very loud, chaotic and far more over-the-top than the subtle nature of what came before but by the time the story rolls to the final 15 minutes, this more bombastic approach actually pays off. There’s no more cheap and weak jump scares or sounds that are edited to destroy speakers; at this point the chaos has substance to it and it really made up for a film that was coasting on generic “found footage” tropes for over an hour. The only downside is that this moment of the film destroys the ambiguity of the first film and answers the questions of what happened to the three doomed filmmakers; but, in fairness, the second film was the first to destroy that ambiguity.
It's seems a young Joel McHale played Heather's brother.
Blair Witch is far from a perfect film and, honestly, sorta rests at the same level of the second film. It lacks the spirit and subtlety that ended up making the first film so incredible and, instead, settles for mediocrity in the realm of the formulaic and is the already done too often “found footage” film. In defense of the movie, there was no way it was going to live up to what came before and it sadly ends up being an addition that is just as forgettable as the previous sequel. I honestly feel I am being generous with giving it a 3 because it feels so underdeveloped and weakly constructed that it deserves a 2 but that final 15 minutes is scary enough that it warranted being a little forgiving.