It’s hard to believe it’s been over 41 years since The Blair Witch Project hit theaters (give or take a decade or so). And now we have a true sequel – Blair Witch. It’s first sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, was forgettable despite being directed by Joe Berlinger, one of the best documentary filmmakers [period]. (do i need a second period there?) In fact, I just read the synopsis while preparing to write this post and it was wholly unfamiliar to me. A fact made all the more damning considering that I worked on the marketing for the film. (as a peon. that’s not a brag) So, now it’s 2016 and general audiences are asked, “Hey! Remember The Blair Witch Project? Wouldn’t you like to see a real sequel of that?” with the unspoken promise that it will be good this time. Lionsgate definitely put their best foot forward by bringing on an indie horror A-team – Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. But were they able to keep their unspoken promise? Read on!
James Donahue finds a mysterious shaky-cam clip online that he believes features his missing sister, Heather Donahue (subject / star of The Blair Witch Project). Three of his friends volunteer to accompany him on his trek through the woods to learn more. Luckily (for us) His friend, Lisa, is an aspiring documentarian and wants to record everything for her film class. They load up their equipment and head to Burkittsville, MD, where the guy who posted the video (username: darknet666) lives. The guy refuses to tell the crew where he found the tape unless they take him and his girlfriend into the woods with them so that he can make his own documentary. Since they don’t have much choice in the matter, they agree to his terms. They hike far into the woods, set up camp, and shit goes straight downhill from there.
Lionsgate has delivered on their unspoken promise. (that’s probably a review spoiler, but you deserve it for making it this far) Speaking as a fan of The Blair Witch Project, I can say that Blair Witch delivered on everything that I’d hoped it would be. It’s scary. It’s disorienting. It’s frenetic. And it’s bleak as hell. (and yes it has crying apologies too) But, as a conscientious reviewer, I have to look at a film critically. Making as objective an assessment as possible. SO! With that in mind, what do I think of the film? Let me get the negative critiques out of the way first. The film is a bit slow to gather steam. Similar to the first film, the bickering characters and long sequences of trudging through the woods may wear thin for some viewers. It’s definitely minor though. And not nearly as prolonged as it was with Heather Donahue’s ill-fated expedition. There were also a couple of the “who’s shooting this?” and “how’d they get that shot?” moments that come with most found footage films. (i admit that i’m particularly sensitive to this though) But on the whole, the film uses found footage very well and it doesn’t detract / distract from the story as it does in most found footage films. (though i still wish that they had come up with some explanation for the editing. maybe a ‘this footage is a matter of public record and has been assembled by a concerned citizen…’ or something. but that’s nitpicking) Those are minor (very minor) concerns in an otherwise great film. As in The Blair Witch Project, the darkened woods play a huge role. The audience will often have no fixed focal point beyond a darting flashlight beam, creating a vague panicky feeling and adding to the overall fear of the situation. And the sound design is perfectly suited to that feeling, with twig snaps, unexplained crashes, and screams coming from the specific directions that the characters respond to. Once the shit hits the fan for our intrepid protagonists, the film ratchets up the dread with each passing minute. Not the slow-burn dread varietal either. This is keep-moving-or-you-will-die terror-dread. (don’t steal “terror-dread”. i’m calling dibs) And there are some shocking / surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scares peppered throughout the last half of the film, making the wait through the exposition and traveling logistics of the first half well worth your time.
The Final Cut: Blair Witch is a worthy successor to the original film. It capitalizes on that film’s lost-in-the-woods creepiness and desperation, while upping the ante with fresh horrors and modern polish.