Nobody was particularly asking for a sequel to the excellent 1999 horror movie The Blair Witch Project but that didn’t stop the trickle of excitement once the shock reveal of the movie first titled The Woods was in fact Blair Witch. Unlike the minor and poorly received sequel The Book of Shadows, Blair Witch goes back to the roots of the original horror. It is Found Footage, it is in the original woods and the characters are searching for answers to questions posed in the original, most of all “What happened to Heather?”
The movie starts in the same ilk as the original, with a larger crew of people beginning their own investigation into the disappearance, in particular James Allen McCune, playing James, who is the brother of original documentary maker Heather. It means there is more of a link to the original, some true motivation for the movie and a genuine reason to go back.
It also has the benefit of better technology. The cameras are not just the bulky, hand-held type of the first but everything from head-mounted cameras, a drone-camera and smaller, digital types. It is a beneficial move forward, meaning that the reason to keep a camera on throughout the horror makes more sense, as well as capturing the events from many new angles.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett try to mix the classic elements of the original and newer techniques and story-telling devices throughout the movie. Some work very well but others actually detract from what made the first film so successful and ultimately so frightening.
The positives are the characters. There is wider range of characters and some have much more to offer than the original three arguably did. From earnest and desperate James, through to documentary maker Lisa (played by Callie Hernandez) and creepy Blair Witch experts Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valerie Curry respectively). It means there is potential for much more of a story this time, with a few red herrings and some attempt to build on the original’s mythology.
Unfortunately, this attempt to build on the elements of the first movie also lead to some bizarre choices and changes which make little sense. Most of Blair Witch occurs in the dark, with the characters falling victim to a seemingly endless night. It means that some of the action is quite indistinguishable and people run through forests and flashlights spin in darkness. It also lacks the relentless fear, dreading for the darkness when the horror will strike because all of it is in darkness.
Wingard also resorts to the worst kind of horror – “cattle-prod and jump-scares.” There are moments when there will be a huge sound, a tent will be thrown across the screen or characters will appear out of nowhere to give instant fright. It is cheap horror and undercuts the tension that was created so well in the first and created effectively in places here too.
Blair Witch also makes the error of showing too much. There is a creature in the movie and although it is only glimpsed briefly, it is enough to take away the best aspect of the first: the mystery. The audience were left to fill in the gaps themselves, creating their own story. Blair Witch suffers from trying to tell too much of the story, over-explaining or adding explanation for elements which don’t need it.
It means that Blair Witch has a slightly damp, ineffective finale. The ending of the first movie managed to scare the wits out of audiences back in 1999 and while there are some commendable attempts to do the same here, there is too much over-explanation and repetitive “scare-tactics” for it to be truly creepy.
Overall, Blair Witch had a lot of potential and starts strongly but some bizarre choices in story-direction and a resorting to “jump-scares” means that it lacks the mastery of the original. What is best done with imagination and little-explanation is over-explained and made complicated, sometimes confusingly so.
Rating – 2.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)