Movie Review: Blair Witch
1999 was a year that stands out in a number of ways, when it comes to film. Not only did we get a new Star Wars episode, and an amazing sequel to PIXAR’s first animated feature, but a little indie company by the name of Artisan Entertainment, took us by surprise that summer, with The Blair Witch Project.
Claimed to be the edited footage of a lost expedition to explore the legends of a haunted area of The Black Hills forest in Maryland, a clever internet marketing campaign, had some believing that the film’s found-footage was real.
The economically-budgeted hand-held film, would go on to become Artisan‘s most successful release, grossing more than $140 million that summer.
The studio quickly started work on a sequel, and a year after the first film, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was released. However, Shadows tanked, and talk of a third Blair Witch film, quickly evaporated.
Then, at Comic-Con this year, many were surprised when a new film being touted as The Woods, was actually revealed to be a new continuation of the film series.
The news was greeted with some excitement, rekindling memories of the first film for many, including myself.
20 years after the group in the first Blair Witch film disappeared, a mysterious DV recording pops up on Youtube, claiming to be recently-found footage, possibly revealing more clues about the Blair Witch mystery.
One viewer of the footage, is a man named James (James Allen McCune), who is convinced that it contains visual proof that his sister Heather (who was with the group that disappeared in the first film), is still alive.
Gathering some of his friends, they head off to the Black Hills forest, equipped with all sorts of cameras and recording items (including a mini-drone). Along the way, they pick up two Burkittsville residents who found the DV tape, and are also fans of the Blair Witch legend.
However, once they make their way into the woods, things definitely start to get out-of-hand…
Unlike the 1999 film, Blair Witch is put together by a new filmmaking team.Written by Simon Berrett, and directed by Adam Wingard, these two have run tag-team on a number of horror films in the last few years (including hand-held segments on the V/H/S/ film anthology). What they bring to the table with this film, almost feels like what I imagine some expected Book of Shadows to be.
One major problem I had while watching the film, is that it soon had my brain thinking of other found-footage films, which contained some familiar story points I’d seen before. A few of these films that came to mind, were Mr Jones, and Devil’s Pass. If you’ve seen those films, I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing some similarities like I was.
An annoyance that Wingard seems to also delight in before the real ‘meat’ of the story, are constant loud sound effects, as we switch on and off certain cameras, and their footage. It feels like he’s trying to get in a few cheap jump scares, and it almost makes one wonder who (film-wise) edited this footage together.
Over the years, a number of persons have come up with theories as to what could have happened to the first film’s group, and one theory online intrigued me enough, that I wondered if the film would run with it…and, for the most part, it did! Once one character spouted one line, the film had me hooked to see where it would go.
Of course, the filmmakers don’t stray too far from the first film, and we are given some touchstones, that brought to mind certain remembrances I hadn’t been thinking of in years. For a few, there is a sense of the familiar…but with a twist!
While we do get a few comedy moments from James’ friend Peter (Brendan Scott), much of the cast is pretty ‘regular.’ Though in a surprising way, much like the cast of It Follows, they never develop the kind of traits that make you eager to see them killed off.
Storywise, I was disappointed that we didn’t get more focus on James’ predicament. One almost expects him to explain more about his sister’s disappearance and how it affected his life, but that’s largely left to our imagination. There’s so little talk about Heather after awhile, that you almost forget the search through the woods, is about her.
On a more positive note, the film gets the obligatory argument scenes out of the way quickly (it isn’t a found-footage film without at least a few of those).
In a way, Blair Witch seems to be to The Blair Witch Project, what Terminator: Genisys was to Terminator 2: Judgement Day: a modern reconfiguration of a film series, that attempts to excise some of the less popular ‘chapters,’ and mess with our familiarity of the series.
Seeing the film, I was reminded of a question I’ve often wondered regarding these found-footage films: who are the people in these worlds that find these pieces of film, and edit them together? Is there some secret group whose sole purpose is to uncover hidden footage, leak it to the public, then leave cryptic messages about how they are ‘exposing the truth?’
Now that could be a film idea worth exploring.
Final Grade: B- (“Blair Witch” plays like a heightened version of the first film, but the added intricacies of what goes on in the Black Hills forest, is what kept the ‘mystery box’ appealing to me. The characters are relatively neutral, and the filmmakers’ constant attempts to keep jump-scaring us can get a little lame. However, where the film takes us, shows there could be enough to still keep us guessing, about what is going on out in the woods.)