After finding a video he believes to be of his missing sister Heather, James and his friends venture into the same woods she disappeared in.
Fans of the original film will find what they’re looking for. Blair Witch is essentially a better shot, faster paced version of The Blair Witch Project. It is a serviceable, competently made horror film, but unfortunately doesn’t do much more than that.
Found footage has been around for a long time, with films like Cannibal Holocaust marking some of the earliest entries into the ‘genre’. However, The Blair Witch Project is without a doubt the driving force behind the popularisation of found footage. Since 1999 this style has been hammered into the ground; done over and over, with films rarely adding much new blood to the now stale technique. But if anyone could reinvigorate the unoriginal found footage conceit, surely it would be the dream team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, Blair Witch’s director and writer respectively. The pair are responsible for You’re Next and The Guest, two of the most innovative and entertaining genre films of the last five years. Yet despite it all, much of Blair Witch falls flat.
It is a genre plagued by clichés and frustrating tropes, many of which Blair Witch checks off with little self-awareness. Massive exposition dump in the opening act explaining in painful detail the features of every camera and foreshadowing how said features will come into play later; check. Frequent justification of why the cameras are rolling; check. Wild and erratic camera movement even when characters aren’t in danger to remind audiences that this footage was just ‘found’; check.
This isn’t bad filmmaking necessarily, and Blair Witch is well made and it is scary. But it’s also a bit lazy. Blair Witch’s audience has seen films like Paranormal Activity and its sequels. In comparison, the camera work here seems dull and uninspired. Especially considering some of the best tension in the Paranormal Activity films occurs when cameras were either stationery or mounted on slow moving objects, like a fan. In contrast, Blair Witch’s cameras are, for the most part, constantly in some kind of motion, and there is no scare or plot point that is revealed in an interesting way. The film does nothing to justify its framing device; it does nothing to prove to its audience that this story couldn’t have been told any other way.
Also disappointing are some of the tropes included and the story elements not included. In a few small, shining moments, the film pokes fun at horror tropes, in particular the jump scare. It is entertaining, tongue-in-cheek and falls in line with the tone Wingard and Barrett are known for. But those moments are few and far between, and the other scenes they share the screen with are the opposite; textbook horror movie. And again, this would not be so egregious if we hadn’t been given a slight taste of the potential this film had. In one brief scene, our protagonists run into someone who they hadn’t spoken to in several hours. When he sees them he expresses that for him it’s been five days since they last spoke. There is one particular death scene that is subtly foreshadowed just seconds before it happens, and when it does it is shocking and brutal and inventive. But these interesting scenes and concepts are muted by the familiar cookie-cutter plot points and camera-work that fills the film.
The lack of originality in the framing is made up for in other areas. For instance, the sound design is excellent, and in a dark cinema the soundscape engulfs you. It see-saws between thunderous crashes that only last for a moment, and slow building, multi-layered symphonies of terror; a pervasive creeping that instils audiences with dread, elevating the scares to a new height.
Originally promoted under the faux-title The Woods. Was then revealed as the third Blair Witch movie at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con.
Deserted Island Movie Collection: The films of John Landis.
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