Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scot, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the woods.
In 1999 the independent film The Blair Witch Project was shot on a micro budget and changed the face of horror films forever. It popularised the found footage genre, with its DIY aesthetic – the frantic editing and its jerky, nausea inducing hand held camera work and multiple point of view perspectives – which has influenced films like Chronicle, Cloverfield, and the Paranormal Activity franchise. A lot of the initial success of the film was due to the curiosity factor as many people were led to believe that it was an actual documentary. There was a sense of mystery and lots of unanswered questions about the mythology of the Blair Witch that the original film only hinted at. The phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project also produced an inferior sequel in 2000, the disappointing Book Of Shadows, which virtually killed off the franchise for sixteen years.
Now filmmaker Adam Wingard and his long time collaborator Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, etc) revisit the mythology of the Black Hills forest and the infamous Blair Witch with their latest film. Not so much a belated sequel as a loose remake, it is structurally similar to the original as created by directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, who are on board here as executive producers. This new Blair Witch ignores the awful Book Of Shadows, and effectively revisits familiar territory and rehashes familiar material. However the pair also incorporate some elements of the body horror genre.
When the film opens, James Donahue (James Allen McCune, from tv series The Walking Dead, etc) sees some footage on the internet that purports to show his sister Heather, who was one of the victims of the Blair Witch in the original film. Is it possible that Heather is still alive out there somewhere? James decides that he is going to investigate, and he is going to film his efforts to find the fabled Blair Witch house in the woods and his sister. He is accompanied by his girl friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez, from Machete Kills, etc), a student filmmaker, and his best friend Peter (Brandon Scott, from Grey’s Anatomy, etc) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid, making her film debut here).
The four are guided by the creepy Lane (Wes Robinson, from The Genesis Code, etc), who found the footage and put it on the internet, and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry, from tv series House Of Cards, The Following, etc). Lane and Talia share more of their knowledge of the Blair Witch phenomenon as they travel to Burkittsville in Maryland, and trek through the cursed woods.
The early scenes as the six make their way into the bush are fairly humdrum and pretty straight forward. But when they set up camp overnight things spooky begin to happen and a sense of paranoia and hysteria begin to overtake them. There are spooky sticky figures dangling from the tree branches, ominous sounds in the night, and eerie briefly glimpsed figures in the bush. The climax of the film takes place inside the Blair Witch house itself, and these 20 minutes are quite intense and unsettling. They are easily the best thing about the film.
Wingard is a competent filmmaker who slowly ups the suspense and tension. Here he adheres to the low rent aesthetic of the found footage genre, although he updates the technology with the use of a camera attached to a drone as well as tiny headset cameras that add a sense of urgency. And this one is shot in colour and digitally, giving it a cleaner visual style. Kudos must go to Jeffrey A Pitts for his effective and eerie sound design which is disorienting at times, while Robert Baumgartner’s frenzied cinematography is also very good, giving the material a strong visceral quality. The whole thing has been edited in razor sharp style by Louis Cioffi (Dexter, etc), who also inserts technical glitches into the material.
The largely unknown young cast are put through their paces and are quite effective. McCune and Hernandez seem to carry the film through its more emotional and scary moments. However, the characters here are rather bland and we don’t really care about them or become emotionally invested in their fate.
Competently made and delivering a couple of effective scares, this slick new take on the Blair Witch mythology hardly adds anything new, and is largely redundant. The whole found footage genre has now lost much of its edge. However, Blair Witch will still hold some appeal for those familiar with the original film.