Blair Witch, 2016.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
Starring James Allen McCune, Valorie Curry, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson and Corbin Reid.
A group of college students venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to unravel the mystery of the legendary Blair Witch.
When Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s micro-budget 1999 shocker The Blair Witch Project hit the screens, it was heralded by perhaps the most ingenious marketing campaign of modern times. There was a tsunami of hype prior to its release, with the film-makers insistence that the footage was genuine, and was found in the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994. The film was their tribute to the 3 young film-makers documenting the local legend of the Blair Witch; Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, who were all presumed dead. In the early days of the Internet, Haxan film’s viral website blairwitch.com was very convincing in adding to the myth of the Blair Witch and perpetuating the believe that this recovered footage was indeed the real deal. It didn’t hurt that the film itself delivered real chills and a fascinating mythology.
The Blair Witch Project has a lot to answer for. Its $250 million return on a $20,000 budget sent rival studios into a frenzy which resulted in the splatter of found footage genre flicks that have plagued the horror genre over the subsequent decade and a half. The most successful of these easily being the now defunct Paranormal Activity series. A failed attempt to franchise Blair Witch was made in the year 2000, but Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was too much of a deviation from the successful formula of the original and thus disappeared quickly with very little fanfare.
All this year I’ve been excitedly awaiting director Adam Wingard’s The Woods, his latest collaboration with writer Simon Barett following the excellent double punch of You’re Next and The Guest. To mine and everybody else’s surprise, The Woods (now re-monikered Blair Witch) was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con to be a secretly filmed, covert sequel to the original low-key smash, not unlike how 10 Cloverfield Lane took us all by surprise earlier this year.
I’m very happy to report that, while Blair Witch doesn’t attempt to drastically change the formula, it is a very worthy sequel, very very scary and proof of Adam Wingard’s versatility and talent within the confines on the horror genre.
The set-up is familiar territory. This time a group of film students, along with the brother of Heather from the original film, are determined to find his missing sister, who he believes to be alive somewhere in the woods. Modern technology such as drones, GPS, walkie talkies and the employment of two local guides gives our new, doomed group of explorers a false sense of security. Cue a quickly escalating series of horrifying events as the gang attempts to unravel the local legend of the Blair Witch, Rustin Parr and Coffin Rock.
While not technically a remake, many of the situations the group find themselves in are reminiscent of the original. Where this retooled sequel excels is in the execution of these familiar scenes and its commitment to scaring you witless while expanding its very fun mythology. Like the original, Blair Witch is thin on narrative but compensates for this with a giant serving of dread. Wingard understands that the POV nature of the footage requires him to deliver a thrilling roller coaster ride. This is Blair Witch‘s biggest success, especially during the nighttime and climatic sequences. Moment to moment, it’s terrifying, containing more genuine shocks per minute than any horror film in recent memory.
Tonally, Adam Wingard has pulled of a similar trick to what Fede Alvarez achieved with his slick and nasty reimagining of The Evil Dead. Both films admirably one-up the gross out factor of their predecessors, and both films do an amazing job of making the woods themselves a powerful, malevolent force of evil. This time out the budget is far more accommodating, and we get to see the woods interact with the doomed campers in a much more physical fashion.
If there’s one thing Blair Witch fails to capture, it’s the palpable sense of desperation the documentarians conveyed in the original after being lost for so long. Blair Witch is a less repetitive, faster paced and more thrilling experience overall, though at the expense of character development. This is further compensated for by a wide variety of locations, impressive myth building and a constant sense of dread.
Blair Witch is terrifying, a welcome surprise and an excellent continuation of the lore established in the original Blair Witch Project. If this quality can be maintained, I hope to see this myth further explored for many years to come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★