THE STORY – A young man and his friends venture into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the mystery surrounding his missing sister. Many believe her disappearance 17 years earlier is connected to the legend of the Blair Witch. At first the group is hopeful, especially when two locals act as guides through the dark and winding woods. As the night wears on, a visit from a menacing presence soon makes them realize that the legend is all too real, and more sinister than they could have ever imagined.
THE CAST – James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry, Corbin Reid & Wes Robinson
THE TEAM – Adam Wingard (Director) & Simon Barrett (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
In 1999 “The Blair Witch Project” exploded onto the movie scene. Thanks to clever online marketing, audiences were intrigued by the footage from three young adults venturing into the woods. Soon this relatively low-budget film made nine times its original budget, as audiences flocked to the theaters to see what critics hailed as the best horror movie of all time. It became the topic of conversation at parties, work, and school. The internet, still in its infancy, had half the world convinced the footage was real. Yet “The Blair Witch Project’s” biggest achievement is the creation of a whole new genre of film. The “Found Footage” phenomenon gave us new horror movies (“Paranormal Activity”) suspense/thrillers (“The Visit”), monster movies (“Cloverfield”) and even party movies (“Project X”). But there is no doubt that the original found footage film, the one about a trio of reckless youths trying to prove the legend of a witch, is by far the most accomplished and memorable. Now, 17 years later, “Blair Witch” arrives in an attempt to revitalize the franchise for modern audiences. The movie has impossibly high standards to live up to making it fruitless to compare it to the original.
The opening title card tells us that this movie has been culled from memory cards and DV tapes found in Maryland woods.The story centers around James (Played by James Allen McCune) who has been scouring the Internet for clues since his sister Heather, one of the protagonists from the original film, was lost in the woods. James has enlisted the help of a few friends, including Lisa who is an aspiring documentarian and wants to video tape the entire journey for a film class project (Played by Callie Hernandez). James finds footage on YouTube pulled from a found DV tape that seems to point to the Heather’s location: a lonesome cabin in the woods of Maryland. James and Lisa embark on their journey to find this cabin, accompanied by their friends and the couple that posted the footage on Youtube. What follows are the usual jump scares, tape glitches and loud noises you might expect from any found footage film.
The Blair Witch is written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, the team behind the excellent films “You’re Next” and “The Guest.” Wingard does a great job of selling the found footage aspect of this movie, employing inventive new filming techniques. While in the first film the characters used a single handheld camera, The Blair Witch uses a range of filming devices, including an ear mounted camera that doubles as a GPS as well as a small drone. The acting is good across the board, which is quite impressive considering it’s an unknown cast. There are some genuine scares, especially during nighttime scenes in the woods. During these scenes, the woods almost take on a life of their own and it is plausible to believe a witch might be lurking nearby.
Unfortunately, there is very little dialogue that is meaningful or even suggests a particularly strong story. In fact, most of the plot is a mere rehash of the (much scarier) original, begging the question as to why Simon Barrett wanted to write this film in the first place. What the original film did so well was it gave its actors scenarios and then trusted them to improve the dialogue, leading to scenes that were believable in the way they reacted to the situations at hand. This film does not trust the actors to improve their scenes and everything is blatantly scripted resulting in a huge detriment to the film. Also, after countless found footage films, this one comes off as a bit of “been there, done that.” There is very little seen here that has not been done in other movies. A late third act segment has the characters frantically running which means we watch through cameras that are violently swinging in every direction, leading to a finale that seems unfocused and generally hard to follow.
The Blair Witch is a belated sequel that not many people were clamoring for. That being said, it’s not without merit. It boasts a strong cast and some inventive filming techniques. Unfortunately, those strong elements are hurt by a script that is far too rigid for this type of film and an overuse of cameras that make it frustrating to follow the action. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are of an age where they grew up worshiping “The Blair Witch Project,” but while their reverence is felt, it is obvious the film was not needed. Let’s all just hope that no one feels the need to pay such tribute to “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.”
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – If genuine scares are your thing, then you’re in for a frighteningly good time. The film also employs some creative handheld footage techniques making for a fresh horror experience within this genre.
THE BAD – A lackluster story which inevitably pales in comparison to the original.