Blair Witch (dir. Adam Wingard)

Posted: September 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Blair Witch”, much like last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, feels more like a remake or a reboot than the sequel it actually is. While it does follow and reference events from the original film (the other sequel, “Book of Shadows”, did not take place in the same universe as the first film and thus wasn’t a direct sequel), it follows the original film’s structure almost beat-for-beat to the point that you wish this new film had done more. What we get are more characters and a tiny bit of an expansion on the Blair Witch mythos, plus some more on-screen violence, but otherwise this is barely different than the original film. One wonders why director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, who made the excellent “A Horrible Way To Die” and the good “You’re Next” decided to play this film so safe.

It’s approximately 20 years after the events of the original film. Heather (played by Heather Donahue in the original film) is still missing and presumed dead. Her younger brother, James (James Allen McCune) still wonders what happened to her. Presumably, he’s seen the original “Blair Witch Project”, since in-universe that film was made from footage Heather and her friends shot when they got lost and was recovered in the woods after their disappearance. Anyway, he sees a different video, possibly of Heather in the house seen at the end of that film, uploaded to Youtube. Thinking it might be a lead, he contacted the person who uploaded it so that they may show him where he found the footage in the woods, in the hopes that it will be a lead to finally find Heather. Naturally, James has a friend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who is a film student and decides to make a documentary about this, thus continuing the found-footage aspect of the films that “Book of Shadows” mostly abandoned. At this point, horror fans have been inundated with bad found footage horror films (“The Gallows” comes to mind as a particularly horrible one recently) and perhaps we could have used a different format for this film. While the new “Blair Witch” adds a few new gadgets to the mix (a drone, ear piece cameras), we are still left with one of the base flaws of this genre: there are moments in the film where it makes no goddamned sense that the characters are continuing to film their goings-on. One scene, towards the end, features a character crawling through a tight, underground tunnel. The character doesn’t need the light from the camera, since they have a flashlight, so it makes exactly zero fucking sense for them to continue filming, but they do.

In addition to James and Lisa, we also get Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid), who are friends of theirs, and agree to go on the expedition to search for Heather and film this project. When they arrive at the home of the guy who found the new footage, they are greeted with a Confederate flag hanging on the wall (Peter and Ashley are black), though this makes no sense since neither of the people they meet at this point seems racist, and they are in Maryland which seems to eliminate any chance that they have a misguided heritage reason for keeping it up. Weird. Anyway, these two inexplicable neo-Confederates are Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), lower-class locals who grew up in the vicinity of the woods that the Blair Witch is said to curse. They agree to show James and company the spot they found the footage at, but only if they get to go along. They reluctantly agree, and the six people head off into the woods.

What follows are interpersonal tension, disappearances, fake and real dangers, the implication that the Blair Witch can manipulate time, and a lot of ambiguity. People who were disappointed that the original “Blair Witch Project” was less a horror film and more of a character study about how desperate people unfurl and get panicked will likely be disappointed by this film as well. Conversely, those who liked the original film will probably like this one and appreciate that a few more horror-y elements were added to this film which the original film lacked. We actually see on-screen deaths and glimpses of…something supernatural which may or may not actually be the Blair Witch herself. While the film does give us an abbreviated backstory on the Witch’s mythology, the film glosses over it to the point that some stuff may be unclear still.

While “Blair Witch” is enjoyable enough, I was hoping for more. I wanted a larger expansion of the Blair Witch mythology, some more answers to story questions, more horror elements that weren’t just jump scares and did-you-see-that brief glimpses of supernatural horrors, and maybe more inventiveness with the stale found-footage genre. While the film we got is decent, it is a letdown considering the very talented screenwriter and director behind this. Much like “Force Awakens”, I am left to wonder what the purpose of making a whole new film is when you have the freedom to try anything, and all you do is basically do a remake and call it a sequel. Where’s the imagination? C+

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