Luke Owen gets on the phone with director Adam Wingard to discuss Blair Witch…
It sort of took us all by surprise. Fans of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (who directed and wrote the tremendous You’re Next and even better The Guest) were waiting patiently for their next outing The Woods, and then at this year’s San Diego Comic Con it was shockingly announced it was in fact a sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. All of a sudden, The Woods went from being a must-see for fans of Wingard and Barrett, to a must-see for the entire horror community and general lovers of film.
However this did spark some theories. I myself theorised on the Flickering Myth Podcast that this was a last minute decision, just like 10 Cloverfield Lane was earlier this year changed from a standalone movie to a Cloverfield sequel. Perhaps Lionsgate looked at The Woods and realised they could make this a Blair Witch sequel and ordered some last minute reshoots? The fact the film was pulled from London’s FrightFest just prior to the new title announcement only furthered my conspiracy theory.
I, of course, was very wrong. Blair Witch is, without question, a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. “The whole idea of keeping everything a secret was to really help imprison it in the right light for audiences,” Wingard explains, noting that the project was pitched to them already titled Blair Witch. “We’re living in a time were everyone is so jaded by remakes and sequels and things of that nature that you can’t just come out and say, ‘hey we’re creating a sequel to The Blair Witch Project’ without having a bunch of uproar. Everyone’s immediate reaction would be the usual, ‘Hollywood is out of ideas’. I come from an indie world, no one is less Hollywood than I am. My first film was made for $3k, my second film was made for $5k. I’ve worked way up through budgets over the years. No one understands what it’s like to be an outsider more than I do. So being able to take a property and put my spin on it, it was the least Hollywood thing I could imagine doing; playing in a world that already exists and playing within that as a fan. That’s the sort of thing going on. We didn’t need a backlash against this film a year before its release.”
Wingard is completely correct. Not a month goes by where Twitter doesn’t go into full on meltdown mode when ‘lazy Hollywood’ throws a dart at a DVD collection and asks for a remake. It’s particularly bad in the horror community, which is shocking considering how much original material gets put out every year. The decision to keep it a secret also brings to mind the original movie’s marketing, and the buzz they created for themselves on such a small budget. “Ultimately the original film, it was a genius marketing thing,” Wingard adds. “You can call it a gimmick or whatever, but it was so brilliantly conceived as this real event that happened. The movie itself, you can’t mention without talking about its marketing. In the back of our heads, we knew we had to do something interesting and unique, and it just sort of fell into our laps. The idea of keeping this thing secret all this time, at a certain point it dawned on us that this was our marketing gimmick.”
Those who recall the summer of 1999 will remember the hype surrounding The Blair Witch Project. Seemingly every week a new website popped up detailing the history of the myth of the Blair Witch, and the film’s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez even went so far to produce a mockumentary for the then SciFi Channel claiming the whole thing was real. When the film debuted at the Sundance film festival, the directors handed out flyers asking for information about the “missing students”, and the actor’s IMDB pages were altered to read “missing, presumed dead” for the film’s first year of release. It felt so real. Several of my friends argued insistently that it was real. The lines were blurred so much that I genuinely wasn’t sure despite being in my early jaded teenage years. I remember vividly renting The Blair Witch Project on VHS with my friend and it felt like we’d stumbled upon a genuine snuff movie. Director Kevin Smith tells a fantastic story about his wife watching it for the first time and cried screaming, ‘why won’t someone go and help them?!’. He had to call the producers and ask them to tell his better half that they’re actors and the whole thing wasn’t real. “I would sit there and watch the original film over and over again in preparation of this film,” Wingard recalls when I asked about if doing a sequel to something so iconic was a daunting task. “And I was just so taken aback by how simple and committed to reality that original film is. When characters are arguing the camera is pointed to their feet. They’re not worried about framing. It’s so realistic in how it was put together. There has never been another found footage movie that has hit those heights. So knowing we were making the first official found footage sequel to the original film was very daunting because the standards were so high.”
Times have changed since 1999, however, and there has been a glut of found footage movies covering almost every sub genre of horror imaginable (its even had its own Scream-like satire in Found Footage 3D [read our review here]), and yet no one has captured the magic of The Blair Witch Project. It came out at the perfect time, and will likely never be matched in terms of realism or believability. “The real challenge was, ‘what am I bringing to the found footage world and how can we push this forward?’ Wingard argues. “Juggling all that together, I knew, I wanted to make this the thrill-ride version of Blair Witch. The original film is this extreme slow burn that amps up the tension and then in the last ten minutes something big happens. I knew we couldn’t just do another movie like that, even though that’s what everyone loves about the first film. It would have been disingenuous to try and recapture that framework. It was more about a haunted hayride through Black Hills Forest. It’s this experience of being hunted down in the woods by this mysterious evil thing, and bringing a reality to it that’s more cinematic and finding a new way of joining the cinematic language of conventional horror movies with found footage.”
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