Film Review – Blair Witch
Chances are you’ve fallen into one of two camps when it comes to 1999’s record-shattering indie The Blair Witch Project: you’re either appreciative of its (at the time) gonzo, POV approach and guerrilla marketing strategy or you’re the other 80 percent of the planet. Personally, I loved it. It was a defining visceral experience for me, only slightly/forever tarnished by the rushed and nonsensical sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.
When word broke of the surprise sequel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, excitement ran high. In addition to contributing to my favorite new trend of unveiling a franchise entry only slightly before it’s release (see also: 10 Cloverfield Lane), Blair Witch was revealed to be the newest brainchild of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, creators of the masterful thrillers You’re Next and The Guest. Foolproof, I thought. Foolish, I now think.
Wisely ignoring the initial sequel, Blair Witch centers on James Donahue (James Allen McCune), brother of the ill-fated Heather from the original. An ominous title card informs us a DV tape was located in the woods near where she is thought to have disappeared. The footage contains images of someone James becomes convinced is Heather.
Enlisting the help of his friends – Ashley (Corbin Reid), Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and Peter (Brandon Scott) – James decides to venture into the dreaded Black Woods Forest and, why not, let’s film it all, Where the original outing was only captured on one camera, adding to the surmounting paranoia, these kids are packing a brick ton of millennial-friendly gadgets, including, I kid you not, a drone. I pity the poor, fictional sap tasked with cobbling together this footage once it’s been retrieved.
Given Wingard’s pedigree and the deceiving buzz post-Comic Con screening, I fully expected something of a twist on the original and hoped for characters we could sympathize with or relate to. There was a full 20 minutes before the film’s setpiece to flesh these crazy kids out and yet I already can’t recall a single interaction that gave indication as to who they were as people. Sadder still, the signature Wingard/Barrett dark humor is all but entirely absent this time out.
Fine, it’s a horror movie. We don’t need more than flimsy characterization as long as there are some good scares to be had, yeah? Tragically, Blair Witch fails here hardest of all. The original succeeds, despite there being not much to go on outside of the faint sound of children chattering, rustling tents and a few bloody hand prints. Much of the fright sprouted from the unknown. Here, we’re all too familiar with what’s to come and the sheer lack of surprise or terror is disheartening on every level. I haven’t seen jump scares this cheap since, I dunno, Book of Shadows.
I’ve spent a good deal of this review comparing it to the original, which could be construed as unfair. It’s my responsibility, after all, to view the new entry on its own merits. Trouble is, I can’t find them. Blair Witch is an uninspired retread, plain and simple. If you disagree, come find me. I’ll be standing in the corner, eyes closed tight, asking for my 90 minutes back.