Blair Witch (2016)

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Director: Adam Wingard

Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid

Same old tricks

I’m not against found footage films like a lot of people are. Fair enough if you suffer from motion sickness, but selfishly, I don’t. They’re a great way of creating a sense of scary realism and intensity on a low budget. Cannibal Holocaust may have been innovative enough to begin the concept but there’s no doubt that 1999’s The Blair Witch Project started the trend. Love it or hate it, it’s an essential piece of filmmaking and a masterpiece of movie marketing. Personally, I’m not a fan of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s original film. Despite a creepy final ten seconds and an intriguing set-up of the Blair witch legend, the film is basically 80 minutes of people arguing in the woods over a lost map. There’s no big payoff, nothing is ever shown and mostly I just find very boring and tedious.

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So when Blair Witch was revealed, I wasn’t exactly excited like a lot of people were. I love the Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett duo. The Guest was good and You’re Next was great so I was looking forward to their next project, The Woods which turned out to be a secret pseudonym for a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Early Reviews came out and I suddenly became very excited. People were calling it a game changer for horror films and one even went so far as to say that the film will wreck you, so of course I was sold. I avoided all trailers and decided to pop over and see it on opening day, hoping to watch a genuinely scary found footage horror film. Unfortunately I came out extremely disappointed.

Blair Witch isn’t a bad film, but it’s certainly no game-changer. In fact, it’s nothing much to write home about at all. It is simply an average horror film and in my opinion the worst offering from the directing/writing duo so far. One of the main problems is that it plays out almost exactly like the original Blair Witch Project, albeit a bit more souped up. Instead of having a group of characters going into the woods to investigate about the legend, we have a group of characters going into the woods to find Heather, the main character from the original, who happens to be our protagonist’s sister. If there was no mention of Heather then Blair Witch would definitely be classed as a remake, rather than a sequel. Even fans of this film admit that it follows almost every beat of the original: there’s the getting lost, finding twig men hanging outside the tent, running away in the dark from something that can’t be seen and even the iconic old house finale.

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Blair Witch offers no new surprises and the first half of the film is almost as tedious as the original. We’re not really made to care for any of the characters and none are properly developed. They’re just your average group of young adults being lined up for the slaughterhouse, with the technicians from The Cabin in the Woods at the control panel watching it all play out. When a character dies, we don’t really care which is sort of a problem when we’re made to stay with them for 90 minutes. There are some nice moments of good humour, but for the most part not a great deal happens in the first half. It’s just like watching some friends go on a camping trip. It would’ve been an ideal opportunity for some character development, but instead we just get the usual arguing and friendly banal banter.

Once we hit around the midway point, spooky stuff starts happening but it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. There are some tense moments when characters go off on their own and hear strange noises deep in the woods, but there’s never any payoff. A good scare is like a good joke. There has to be an extended moment of suspense and then an explosive punchline, but Blair Witch seems to always miss the punchline. I was always on edge and waiting for something scary to happen in the woods, but nothing really ever does. I did like the strong feeling of isolation though. There’s a real sense of panic and stress as we realise that these characters are going to end up lost in these woods for what could be an eternity. But whilst the atmosphere is good, the scares are too uninspired to be effective.

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Things do start to pick up in the last twenty minutes though. After what feels like endless screaming and running in the woods, we come across the dreaded old house from the first film. This is when things start to become intense and genuinely horrifying at times. There’s a huge sense of dread and unpredictability which had me on the edge of my seat. I thought, “finally! Maybe this is the part that’s going to wreck me” but it wasn’t. Despite a couple of effective jump scares and moments of intensity, the finale fails to live up to the expectations which it promised. It did a good job of building up tension, but just like the scenes in the woods, it failed to conjure up a truly scary punchline. In fact, the film ends with a very disappointing whimper which left me wanting a lot more.

I don’t mind slow-burners but there has to be a payoff worth waiting for. The original Wicker Man and Kill List are good examples of this, but Blair Witch fails in delivering. In the end, it’s a perfectly serviceable horror film. It uses the found footage aspect well and makes good use of utilising new filming technologies. It’s also better and far more entertaining that the original, but that’s not really high praise coming from a detractor of it. I suppose that I just fell for the hype and I don’t want you to do the same. It has moments which are scarier than most mainstream horror films, but there’s nothing that will shake you to your core here. Hardened horror nuts are not going to be impressed. It may be worth a quick look when it gets released on DVD but it’s not worth seeing on the big screen. If you want a truly scary found footage film then stick to [REC] of Noroi: The Curse. In a year full of great horror films, Blair Witch disappointingly seems to be the first hiccup.

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You’re Next (2013)

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Director: Adam Wingard

Stars: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen

Straw foxes, tagers and lambs

Home invasion. Some people love the sub-genre and some people hate it. Personally, I love it! Possibly my favourite ever horror film, Inside, is built around a home invasion premise. It’s full of thought-provoking ideas about what you would do in the situation, because it could well happen to you (you’re next right?) they also tend to be full of emotion, tension and thrills which is something I can’t get enough of. I’ve been excited for You’re Next ever since I heard about it a couple of years ago. I saw a picture of someone in an animal mask holding an axe and I was sold! I then read a glowing review which made me even more excited. All I had to do was await its release, which seemed like a long time. For some reason studios like to shelve amazing horror films like You’re Next and The Cabin in the Woods which makes little sense when rubbish like Paranormal 8 seem to be churned out constantly!

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So you can imagine my excitement when the film was finally released and I was actually sitting in that cinema chair, hoping to see something really extraordinary. Did You’re Next disappoint? No it did not. For some reason people keep going on about how You’re Next is a rip-off of The Strangers. Little do they know that The Strangers is actually a rip-off of a much better little known French film called, Them (Ils) and the idea of home invasion was most widely explored in 1971 with Straw Dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Strangers. It actually scared me when I watched it on my own in the dark, which something I rarely experience. However, the film is quite slow and doesn’t particularly have a large replay value. There are much better examples of home invasion in Inside, Funny Games and the underrated remake of Mother’s Day. You’re Next is also an example of one of the best home invasion movies.

You’re Next begins with an effective, if predictable opening where the neighbours fall under attack from the animal-masked clan. It’s a good opener and I loved the use of music with the song, Could this Be the Magic, which is also used to great effect later on. We then get a nice introduction of all our lambs who are about to enter the killing floor. Main focus is given to Erin and her boyfriend, however we do get some nice character building on the others too. It was actually really nice to get some characters for a change. Most slasher films use characters who all look and talk the same, making it hard to identify who just got their head knocked off with an axe. However, here I could identify people, making it easy and fun to follow. Although most of the characters aren’t all that likable apart from Erin, but more on her later.

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Thankfully, the action begins quite early on during a lovely dinner table argument. It’s the perfect way to begin really as most slasher films use the stalk-and-slash tactic which means one character walks off from the group, gets killed and the rest of the group think, “where did he go?” Which becomes quite dull and monotonous. Here, all the characters are together and all of them know that they are in danger. It’s thick, fast and chaotic as the camera shakes and cuts manically, which actually works quite well here as it really shows how chaotic the situation is (don’t worry shaky cam haters, shaky cam doesn’t make a noticeable return). I must point out that there is some bad acting at this point, which I’m not sure is intentional or not, because it was quite funny seeing such hysterical acting.

Some people might be quite worried at this point. Shaky cam, bad acting, unoriginal premise… But please don’t worry yourselves, because it’s about to get very interesting indeed. I was actually enjoying the film right from the start, so I was very pleased to see the film getting better and better as it progressed. You’re Next’s greatest strength lies in the pacing. There is not one dull moment. The film miraculously manages to maintain a sense of thrill and tension throughout. The pace is relentless, possibly even more so than the Evil Dead remake (which I liked a lot) with gratuitous and gracious violence caressing the screen throughout. Gore-lovers might be a bit disappointed as there are only one or two really gruesome kills, however you’ll be glad to hear that there are a lot of kills. It’s outrageous fun throughout.

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You’re Next also creates one of the best horror heroines in Erin. She’s a female Rambo who was brought up on a survivalist camp and knows exactly how to survive. Sometimes in films like these, there can be a lot of stupid decisions being made. However, there are none to be made here with Erin around. She’s a sassy hero which makes You’re Next even more intelligent than it needed to be. Seeing her get revenge on the attackers is amazing fun to watch and it’s exactly what you want to happen too! What makes You’re Next super special is the little things. You can tell it has been made with love by people who love the genre. The animal masks are amazing and there are some really great set-pieces such as the flashing camera and the scene where the woman runs to the neighbours house. You’re Next is full to the brim of exciting moments making it have a fantastic replay value.

I didn’t want You’re Next to end. It’s an incredible offering to the home invasion horror genre, and shows the right way to do horror. II actually think it deserves more love than it gets as it’s not often that a horror film comes along that really knows its audience and how to please them. Also, if your worried about the comedy elements, there is no need to. I was a little worried that they’d spoil the tension, but it’s very dark humour that just adds to the film as a whole. I loved the surprising twists and turns it took (although I am proud to say that I speculated the twist quite early on) and the fun mayhem it produced throughout its running time. I also loved the 80’s synth soundtrack and the wonderful use of “Looking for the Magic”. You’re Next is horror done right. It’s intelligent with great characters and filled with fun, thrills and tension. For me it’s the best horror film of 2013.

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