Review: Effective Scares & Thrills Make 'Blair Witch' a Worthy Sequel
by Jeremy Kirk
September 16, 2016
Any verdict on the quality of the actual film aside, Blair Witch is the surprise of the year. It may not be as groundbreaking as when The Blair Witch Project stunned audiences at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival or even when the film stampeded through movie theaters later that summer. The controversy and marketing behind it had something to do with that, but the surprises involved with this latest film, simply called Blair Witch, are undeniable. Thank Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett for this. Their mark on the indie horror scene has definitely been made with hit films like You're Next, The Guest, as well as the V/H/S pair of anthologies. There doesn't seem to be a more perfect union between filmmakers and project, and the level of scares Blair Witch delivers are among the biggest surprises the film has to offer.
First among the big surprises, though, came with the announcement of what the new film from Wingard and Barrett actually was. Originally made under the title The Woods, the film during production – and well into post-production – was presented as a wholly original new entry into the found footage, horror genre. The truth was far more interesting. The story of a small group of friends venturing into an uncharted batch of forest and encountering the horrors that lie within is pretty straightforward as far as this sub-genre goes, but having that story connect to the film that began this whole found footage craze was a nice swerve that took the sub-genre back to those viral marketing roots that grew out of The Blair Witch Project in 1999.
That small group of outsiders this time around is made up of James (James Allen McCune), Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), Peter (Brandon Scott), and a pair of local residents: Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry). After seeing footage of what he believes to be his long-lost sister, Heather (Heather Donahue of the original 1999 film), James becomes convinced his sibling is still alive, trapped somewhere in the Black Hills of Maryland. James sets out with his friends, one of whom is a film student making a documentary based on his search for Heather and equipped with all the latest camera gear a small group would need to make a film in the rural area. Needless to say, the trek through the Black Hills becomes an ever-increasing nightmare for all of them.
It's in the film's scares where Blair Witch absolutely gets the tone right. Wingard and Barrett have more than proven themselves in this department, and their ability to get under the audience's skin becomes all the more apparent as their film progresses. The original Blair Witch Project was not only a suspenseful and eerie look at the breakdown of a group when they're lost, alone, and completely at their emotional and physical end. Filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick nailed it that first time out, so much so that the slate of found footage movies that followed seemed endless, with eventually more parodies than serious entries finding their way to release.
All sense of parody has been set aside but not without leaving something of a sense of humor. This helps flesh out the characters whose point of view we're witnessing as the world seems to crumble around them, the cameras strapped to the sides of their head, so there's little being missed this time around and even less questioning of why anyone is filming. You're never quite sure where the next bout of madness or chaos is going to reveal itself, and Wingard's use of the camera (drones for some aerial footage included) presents a suitable atmosphere for every scene.
Wingard and Barrett's new Blair Witch ultimately proves itself as an honorable reflection of its predecessor as well as the found footage sub-genre as a whole. The view from the camera moves in all directions at any angle possible and it's up to the viewer to keep up with the chaotic menagerie of horrifying things and dark, dismal places. The jump scares come as often and as effective as the subtle changes in the film's soundtrack that leave an unnerving feeling in the viewer's stomach. It's all turned up to the max with Blair Witch, though, and the excitement and intensity left behind in the wake of those scares is sure to entice even the most jaded of fans.
The laurels the film rests on are hard and heavy, and with Wingard and Barrett in control of an effective execution of these elements, there's quite a few number of high points by which fans of the genre will be entertained. Blair Witch's presence may not be what the found footage film genre needs at this point, but it accomplishes the haunted house look and feel that's been missing from the sub-genre for so long. Simply for the way it jolts and thrills you, Blair Witch is a horror experience worth taking.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 5
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