Blair Witch (2016)



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.

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.

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.

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.



Megan Is Missing (2011)



Director: Michael Goi

Stars: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

Megan isn’t the only thing that’s missing

Every self-respecting weird person who’s looking to get disturbed has heard of Megan Is Missing. The only reason I sought out the film is because I’d read how so many people find it horrendously disturbing. If you hop on to the IMDb message boards (always a good place to find opinions by level-headed people) then you’ll find a lot of posts by self-confessed horror movie addicts saying how they found the last twenty minutes of Megan Is Missing to be the most haunting thing they’ve ever seen in a horror film which is quite a big statement! I’m also one of those people who don’t really find many films disturbing. The Human Centipede 2 didn’t particularly bother me and I managed to watch Salo alone in the dark pretty comfortably (ish) so I’m always on the lookout for films that might actually give me sleepless nights.


Megan Is Missing is atrocious. Let’s get that out the way first, it is absolutely embarrassingly bad. As soon as it started my eyes widened in terror at the beyond horrendous acting from the two main characters in the film, Megan and Amy. Both of them can’t act for a toffee apple and that’s being kind about them! Megan’s wooden bedpost is probably the best actor in the whole film and steals the show. Although, let’s face it there really isn’t much of a show to steal. It presents itself as a true story, but this is impossible to take seriously thanks to the stilted acting and forced chemistry between Megan and Amy.

As soon as the film starts we’re treated to dialogue from Amy which goes something like, “We’re filming on my expensive new video camera, Daddy loves me.” To which Megan replies, “My Daddy loves me too, slut” and we get a painfully wooden, “Bitch!” Back from Amy. Such Shakespearean dialogue continues throughout the film and it’s probably supposed to sound like natural 14 year-old girl banter, but the actors deliver their lines like their reading them from the cameraman holding up a cardboard sign. It’s just a total cringe-fest and the characters couldn’t get any more stereotypical or two dimensional. We’ve got Megan the confident, popular school bike and Amy the unpopular, angelic prude.


There is an attempt to build up characters but it just ends up resulting in ridiculous clichés. At one point I even predicted in my head exactly what Megan was going to say as she breaks down awkwardly on camera about her dysfunctional upbringing. We also get treated to a needlessly long monologue from Megan about her first sexual experience which just ends up sounding like dialogue from a porn film. I also liked the director’s idea of a teen house party complete with torch lights and girls randomly jumping up and down going “woo!”

It’s a found footage film so it’s essential for it to have a realistic atmosphere, which it fails at miserably. It does make for unintentionally hilarious viewing though. It’s about a girl talking to a randomer over the Internet and ending up missing (surprise, surprise) but the film is extremely heavy-handed with these themes. It almost feels like a student film at times, especially when they try to create news footage. I actually laughed out loud at one point where they do a re-construction of the kidnapping. I also loved the part where the newsreader teases the next story about a cocker spaniel driving a car through a shop window! I’m not kidding, the filmmakers should’ve made a film based on that idea.


Basically, the first hour of Megan Is Missing is an hilarious example of how not to make a film. But then the next 20 minutes arrive and everything changes. It’s difficult to talk about the last 20 minutes without giving away big plot twists, but I can say that it did actually disturb me. The acting gets a little more convincing (big stress on ‘little’) and the film becomes relentlessly terrifying. The unintentional funniness disappears and we’re presented with a genuinely chilling atmosphere of horror and a sobering sense of realism. Some people say that it’s like some sort of indulgent fetish thing for the director but I think it’s actually done in a way that’s not too exploitative or gratuitous. It’s actually a well-made bit of harrowing horror.

So, Megan Is Missing is a film of two halves and both halves are horrendous for different reasons. The first three quarters have no redeeming qualities, whereas the last quarter has the power to genuinely shock and unsettle without over-stepping the mark or trying to be nasty for the sake of it. It’s a difficult film to recommend, but if you know what you’re getting in to and are a hardened horror fan then it’s definitely worth one watch. Most of it is total rubbish but in the end it presented some truly frightening ideas which did haunt me and will probably continue to haunt me for some time. So that has got to be worth something, hasn’t it?


[REC]3: Genesis (2012)



Director: Paco Plaza

Stars: Leticia Dolera, Diego Martín, Ismael Martínez

Not as bad as everyone makes out, I [REC]kon

I’d been putting off seeing REC3 for a long time due to the sheer amount of negative reviews. It was such a shame to read because I absolutely love the first two films. The first REC isn’t just my favourite ever found footage horror film, but one of my favourite horror films ever! It’s one of the few films to actually make me feel scared and always has me filled with tension no matter how many times I see it. REC2 is also a damn fine sequel. It’s not scary like the first, but it’s entertaining and intelligent.


REC3 came along and I was excited for the whole new setting, however I was extremely sceptical about it not being entirely found footage. What’s the point of having a film with REC in the title if it’s not recorded? Of course, then the poor reviews came flooding in so I just avoided it until it popped up on Film4. I sat down to watch it last night, not expecting much at all, but to my surprise I actually enjoyed it quite a bit!

The first 20 minutes were quite brilliant. I loved how it began like you were watching an actual wedding DVD. It was setting itself up for something with the potential to be spectacular. We had lots of different video cameras, helping us to gain lots of different point of views. We got to know all the characters well, very much like the interviews in the first view. It was also very humorous, and the idea of having it all at a wedding seemed so fresh and original! Once the carnage spread it looked like it we were onto a winner.


Unfortunately, the film made the big mistake of scrapping the found footage angle shortly after the chaos ensued. After this, the film just became your bog-standard zombie movie and the intensity was completely lost. The quick-cutting and clichéd horror music also made sure that the film was completely stripped of its sense of realism. Unfrotunately, for the second bulk of the film it just didn’t work.

All of the events which occurred could’ve quite easily worked through the eyes of a video camera and it would’ve made the film a whole lot better. I quite liked the central idea of the bride and groom trying to reunite, and they were actually pretty decent characters. The film had a nice range of characters altogether actually, it’s a shame that some of them were randomly forgotten about, for example the granny and the little kid were just abandoned.

I have to say that the humour did work for me. I didn’t find it as in-your-face as others did and some of it actually made me laugh out loud. It may be me being childish, but I found every scene with SpongeJohn Sqaurepants hilarious. I also enjoyed the gratuitous violence and was quite surprised by how gory it was. There are some brilliant kills in this which should satisfy most horror fans.


I felt like it began picking up a nice momentum during the final half hour and I got really into it. Suddenly I felt like it didn’t need to be found footage because I cared more about the characters and their situations. It became a really fun little zombie film, and the directing became much more solid. I won’t spoil it, but I really did like the ending too. I thought that the last shot was pretty much perfect.

So I maybe in the minority here, but I think if you go in with the mindset that REC3 isn’t going to be a patch on the first two, then you’ll find that there’s a lot to enjoy. It does have a fairly large wobble in the middle (perhaps it should’ve stayed found footage up until the third act) but even then it’s still entertaining and has plenty of funny moments to keep you interested. I love the idea of it all happening at a wedding and the first and final acts use this idea very well. I was also rooting for the heroes, which is a nice rarity in modern zombie movies! If REC3 was stripped of its title and called Wedding of the Dead, then I think it would be getting a lot more love than it has done.

sevem out-of-ten

The Sacrament (2014)



Director: Ti West

Stars: Adam Wingard, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones, Amy Seimetz

Stick to atheism

I think the less you know about the Jonestown incident before seeing The Sacrament, the more effective the film is. I actually knew about the real-life incident before viewing the film, however it still came across in the film as something shocking and disturbing. After seeing Ti West’s flat effort at a ghost story in, The Innkeepers, I was keeping my expectations low for his feature length follow-up, however I was actually very pleasantly surprised. The Sacrament is one of the best found footage films we’ve seen from America in quite a while.


The Sacrament isn’t about zombies, ghosts or trolls. Instead, it’s the intriguing story of an isolated cult which manages to avoid a lot of the cheap thrills and clichés which found footage films have associated with them. I actually really liked the found footage angle it had as it heightened the feeling of isolation. It makes the audience feel like intruders, thus adding to the sense of mystery. Of course there are a few occasions where the victims pick up the camera before running for their lives, but it’s a contrivance which is difficult to avoid and luckily it isn’t actually too distracting.

Ti West is known for his slow-burning horror films, however I don’t think The Innkeepers worked well as a slow-burner at all so I was preparing myself for boredom. Conversely, I didn’t find one minute of The Sacrament boring at all. The first half does a fantastic job of building intrigue and atmosphere. From the moment we arrive on Eden Parish we know that something is menacing is lurking. We chat to the cult members who all seem jolly about the life they’ve created for themselves and it is interesting to watch. At times, The Sacrament does feel like a genuine documentary which adds to the disturbing reality underneath it.


Things take proper turn for the sinister when we meet the mysterious leader played by the coin toss man in No Country for Old Men! Gene Jones plays him splendidly creepily and comes across a genuine religious nutter. The dialogue Ti West creates for him also feels very authentic which makes for chilling viewing. It’s the final half hour which is the most disturbing to view though, as the film goes down a route you wouldn’t really expect and breaks typical horror movie conventions.

I can’t say that the idea is original because it’s quite clearly based on true events, but it is original to use it in the way it’s done here. There are some very unsettling scenes which managed to get right underneath my skin. I found the music very effective too in creating a depressive atmosphere that is difficult to shake off. When the film was over I felt genuinely unsettled which is something I don’t feel with most modern horror films from America. It also manages to be disturbing without feeling gratuitous.


The Sacrament is a truly horrifying experience, although it doesn’t pan out in the way you think it might. It manages to build up a sense of intrigue and realism which makes the third act all the more effective and powerful. I would’ve liked some better character development and fewer contrivances, but overall The Sacrament is an effective horror film which has the power to unsettle and disturb.


Exhibit A (2007)



Director: Dom Rotheroe

Stars: Bradley Cole, Brittany Ashworth, Angela Forrest

The Seventh Continent in Yorkshire

The found footage genre gets quite a lot of stick. Admittedly it does feel like a new found footage horror film is churned out every week and most of them feel like the same film. Some are quite brilliant though. REC, is probably the finest example the sub-genre has to offer and the criminally under seen Noroi: The Curse is probably the scariest film I have ever sat through. I had never heard of Exhibit A until I stumbled across it on a list which featured the scariest found footage movie moments. Because I’m a twisted individual, the idea of a family crumbling in front of their own camcorder appealed to me and so I sought it out immediately.

exhibit a

I made a point of reading very little about it because it clearly had a shocking ending which I didn’t want spoilt. I’d urge everyone else to do the same, however if you do know the ending outcome, don’t worry because it’s still worth the watch. It’s a wonderful idea for a found footage film. There are no Spanish zombies, or Blair witches and there are no Norwegian trolls either. It’s all about a regular nuclear family, probably not dissimilar to yours or someone you know and that’s where the disturbing horror really lies.

The film has obviously (and probably literally) been made on a shoestring, but it’s all the more authentic for it. Exhibit A could’ve easily turned into an embarrassing PSHCE film if it felt false, but thankfully it doesn’t. It helps that the performances are so good, especially by the Dad who doesn’t have an easy role to play at all. The Mum sometimes felt a little wooden, but towards the end she crucially pulls out a powerful and authentic performance.


The trouble with most found footage films is that they don’t actually feel like they’ve been found. Diary of the Dead, for example uses multiple cameras and even has music playing over some scenes! Exhibit A is by far the most ‘real’ found footage film I’ve seen. They’ve obviously shot on an actual cheap camcorder and used a lot of improvisation. You buy into the story and actually begin to feel like you know the characters, thus you care about what happens to them.

Exhibit A is about a man slowly cracking under financial pressures. It starts out comically with lots of funny and warm family moments. I also liked how we got to uncover lots of little things about Judith, the daughter who does the majority of the filming. In the end it becomes a film about secrets and how every family has them. There’s a great moment mid-way through where the film starts to take an uneasy turn into psychological horror. What begins as the Dad trying to humorously stage a video for You’ve Been Framed becomes a desperate act of anger, verging on insanity.


It’s a very slow film to get going, with a lot of unnecessary scenes which slow the film down, however this does add to the authenticity of it all. It’s the final half hour where things take a disturbing turn and it becomes gripping to watch. The final five minutes are an incredibly harrowing watch. It has imagery that will sear its way into your brain and stay there for a long time.

Exhibit A is a great no budget horror film. It basically tells the same disturbing tale as Michael Haneke’s striking debut, The Seventh Continent. Whilst, Exhibit A isn’t as mind-numbingly depressing as The Seventh Continent, it is almost as effect. The acting is great and features some very powerful scenes which will stay with you. It may be a little slow to begin, but it’s well worth sticking with as you feel immersed in the life of this family. It’s a remarkable little film which deserves way more attention than it has received.