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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