At the very least, The Blair Witch Project was a movie released at the right time and place. At most, it was a cultural phenomena.
I can still remember all the word of mouth going around after the 1999 sleeper hit landed — this all coming from school kids, mind you.
Was the footage real? Is this still going on? Are the woods safe?!?!
Blair Witch Project was so exciting because it did something different. With the exceptions of a few films like Cannibal Holocaust, found footage films weren’t around much and added an element of mystery to what would otherwise just be low-budget filmmaking.
That was 1999. Today, studios have mined the idea for all it’s worth, putting out handful of mostly terrible found footage endurance tests on the cheap to pad their income.
Thus, I really wish I could report that Blair Witch — Adam Wingard’s “true” follow-up to the original cult classic — is the movie that brings the genre to the next level.
I really wish I could say that it’s genuinely scary. That it doesn’t fall into the tedium of basically all the other films of its ilk. That it doesn’t feel like a waste.
Again, that’s how I wish it was.
Wingard, director of the probably-not-as-good-as-you-were-thinking You’re Next and the genuinely fun The Guest, seems like a solid choice to try something fun and new for the Blair Witch story.
To a point, the “updatequel” makes a few intriguing choices in how to bring this story into modern times.
One of our main characters here is directly tied to the original story and joins up with a team of friends as part of a film to go discover what happened 17 years ago.
The team utilizes some handy technology in their outing, with earpiece bluetooth cameras explaining why they don’t just drop the camera when things get hairy and an aerial drone giving us the occasional wide shot showing the sinister ocean of trees.
For a while, Blair Witch gives us the impression that could be one of the first effective films shot in the first-person — maybe even film’s answer to PT. The characters are decently established minus some forced comic relief, we have a good reason to revisit the story, and there’s a respectable amount of recap of the chilling folklore surrounding the Blair Witch (as well as some added wrinkles near the end).
That works for about half an hour. Then it all goes to hell.
Contrasting all the new technology incorporated, Blair Witch‘s scares are old and stale. It’s beyond disappointing to see the movie slide so quickly into cheap jump scares and false suspense.
In the realm of “show, don’t tell,” this film doesn’t really do either. Besides the basic mythology, there’s no real explanation as to what’s going on or why when the terror begins. That’s ok because horror so often comes from the unknown.
But at the same time, the film does itself no favors with its typical blurred found footage camerawork. The picture may be much more crisp than your average handheld, but there’s almost no point where the visuals aren’t choppy and muddled so as to absorb what’s happening.
The rare points where we get enough visual information to draw some conclusions aren’t enough to fix the tedious set up we’ve already gone through. The same repetitive shot of the forest just gets old fast.
Maybe if we had stellar characters throughout, this might not have been such a death blow to Blair Witch.
But then this also becomes the kind of movie where a character inures their foot, spends 20 minutes vocalizing the growing pain of the wound, then decides to climb a tree to recover the crashed drone. Yeah, not inspiring.
Blair Witch had all the potential to be a shock to the system for found footage horror films. The most surprising thing it did was revealing its true title weeks before release. A good setup quickly wanders off the path into the type of terrain that’s all too common — namely, a film that’s tedious, intentionally obscured and tragically bland. The stuff of legend, this is not.