Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
In 1994, three filmmakers set out to the Black Hills forest near Burkittsville, Maryland to shoot a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch. Their footage was found in the woods, but their bodies were never discovered. Twenty years later, a video on You Tube surfaces with an image that makes it appear that Heather, one of the original victims, may still be alive. Her brother James (McCune) sees this video, and after many freeze frames and replays, convinces himself that Heather is still alive somewhere out in the Black Hills forest. He was four when she disappeared and has never received closure for the sister he barely got to know. Much like the first film, it becomes a movie within a movie as James’s friend Lisa (Hernandez) decides to film their search as a documentary for a class project. Their friends, Ashley (Reid) and Peter (Scott), join them as they set out for Burkittsville. Before they head into the woods, they meet up with Lane (Robinson) and Talia (Curry) as they are the townies that found that new footage and uploaded it to You Tube. Lane and Talia are sketchy, to say the least, and use their knowledge of the woods as a bargaining chip to convince James to let them tag alone. Their goal is to find that original house where Heather and Mike were last spotted back in 1994. Their first night deep within the woods is an indication of what terror they will fall upon as they wake up to find those infamous Blair Witch stick figures hanging outside their tents.
Going to see the original The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 was a movie going experience I’ll never forget. The line was around the building at the Uptown Theater, and there I stood with my aunt and uncle dying with anticipation as to what was going to unfold. It was opening weekend and all anyone knew about this movie was that it was a documentary about three people who disappeared in the woods thanks to a mysterious witch/creature/phantom/whatever. The footage was supposed to be frightening. At this point in the film’s release, it was not known that the documentary was a hoax. We would only find out later that the three subjects were actors, and that the audience had all been tricked by the directors and a brilliant marketing plan. That doesn’t necessarily lesson the scares that occurred while watching it, but it poses an issue of how to set up a sequel to carry on this tradition.
Like any horror sequel, it’s hard get scared in the same fashion when you essentially know what to expect this time around. Sometimes horror sequels try to up the ante by making it bigger and bloodier with a higher death count. Luckily Blair Witch doesn’t quite go that route. I think writer Simon Barrett and his directing partner Adam Wingard, who both worked on genre films like You’re Next and The Guest, knew they needed to keep it as minimalistic as possible to keep that tone intact. The four main friends are equipped with head cams to capture that first person point of view and give the film that infamous shaky cam style that could make people queasy. They bring it into today’s world by using cameras equipped with GPS and the kids bring along a drone to capture additional footage and help navigate their way out of the woods if need be. The use of the drone provides for some interesting aerial shots that feel fresh given the fact that the tired found footage technique is now passed its prime. However, I am giving this film a pass for its usage, as it was The Blair Witch Project that really started that trend.
Let’s get down to the business at hand and if the film is actually scary. Yes, it does deliver in the scare department if things that go bump in the night easily spook you. The minimal light on the head cams barely illuminates what lies ahead for the characters as they make their way through the woods to see what’s lurking in the shadows. It was always a little unsettling to think about what would be outside of their tent as they slowly unzipped it. Add in a thunderstorm and visibility is bleak throughout a giant portion of the film. With the shaky cam aspect, it does get very hard to actually see what’s going on. That is the viewpoint of the characters, so it makes sense to boost the scares but makes it a bit harder for the movie goer to see what’s going on. I’m fine with that to a point, but I don’t want to totally be left in the dark. The ending of the movie is very reminiscent of the first film and plays on that concept longer than the first one did. It’s definitely treated as a climax versus an abrupt ending.
I left Blair Witch a bit puzzled on if it works or not. The horror fan in me enjoyed it as I am huge fan of the first film and still find it groundbreaking for independent cinema and the horror genre. I applaud Adam Wingard for bringing the Blair Witch legend into a post-2010 world without messing with the concept too much. Like the first film, the cast is comprised of mainly unknown actors. Many of them have credits to their name but they are not overly recognizable faces. It helps go along with that ruse of this being “based on a true story.” I don’t know if the film adds much to what has come before, but it is certainly more memorable than Book of Shadows, the second part that tanked upon release. It should appease those that got a kick out of the first film and others that may be altogether unfamiliar with The Blair Witch Project.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? I dug it for what it was
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS