Blair Witch, 2016.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry.
Set 22 years after the events of The Blair Witch Project, college student James Donahue believes he has found video proof that his sister Heather is still alive. James, along with his documentary filmmaking friend Lisa, and couple Peter and Ashley, seek to find her.
Blair Witch’s opening shot consists of an unidentifiable frightened female rushing through the corridors of a derelict house escaping a pursuing entity. The video is interjected by James (James Allen McCune) as it’s revealed that he’s showing this footage to documentary filmmaking student Lisa (Callie Hernandez) as proof of his sister’s whereabouts. James believes that if they can locate the house depicted in the film, they can save his sister – oh, and it gives Lisa an original project for her college course.
This opening of aesthetic disparities between the grainy effects of the archival footage, which wonderfully pays homage to The Blair Witch Project, and the contemporary handheld camera during James and Lisa’s exchange, foregrounds the advances of filmmaking technology in the last two decades. This trajectory of increased sophistication can also be found in Lisa’s gear of a drone camera, head-cam, night-cam etc. Lisa’s ability to record their expedition into the forest from a multiplicity of angles further reminds us of the tech-savvied differences between the two eras: Lisa understands the importance of a well-framed shot, whereas the TBWP was messy.
Joining James and Lisa on this hike into the Black Hills are James’ life-long best friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his partner Ashley (Corbin Reid). The film’s screenwriter Simon Barrett has written these characters with a self-awareness that is seldom found in mainstream horror. Peter and Ashley appear to be unbounded by genre convention as they respond to these jumps-in-the-woods with common sense and logic with self-preservation overriding courage. They add much to the plot, both in driving the story forward as one becomes integral to the ensuing events (it’s pretty obvious who and when) and in adding much humor for levity – some well-earned chuckles derive from these two.
Along with the four are Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who claim to know where the aforementioned derelict house is located. These two stereotypical hicks have their own battery-powered camera, identical to those of the first film, in a macabre desire to see the witch live. This urban vs rural horror trope has been around for decades, arguably since the origin of cinematic genre, but this stands against the grain due to the empathetic performances from Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry respectively.
The first two acts of the film build upon the originals mythos. It disorientates the audience with uncertain glimpses and blurs of something lurking in the forest and utilizes the contemporary filmmaking tools to produce a wholly three-dimensional space. The forested vista from the drone cameras perspective is monumental, as well as a haunting reminder of the character’s isolation.
In spite of the terrific build up and atmosphere, and much like any horror film of yesteryear, Blair Witch succumbs to a disappointing third act climax as the characters descend to shouting each other’s names, and the CGI-constructed scares pad out the framing. The high-pitched soundscape and the increased jump scares (the first two acts rinse this overused contemporary horror gimmick dry) simply makes it unpleasant viewing. Moreover, the descent into ludicrous, and seemingly inescapable situations makes this act laughable. There are moments that do warrant merit, notably the plot twists and the greater revelations of the Blair Witch folklore, but it becomes an unpleasant conclusion to an otherwise finely constructed retread/sequel.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★