Blair Witch (2016) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for language, terror and some disturbing images
Running Time: 89 min.
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Simon Barrett
Review published September 17, 2016
I watched and modestly enjoyed The Blair Witch Project as a unique take in cinema back in 1999, but I've never chosen to revisit it. Without a great story, compelling direction, or any other aspect of film that generally makes me want to take a second look months, years, or even decades later, that breakthrough film just doesn't have much else going for it other than an incredibly good idea for a new kind of so-called found-footage movie, marketed well. With Blair Witch, the 2016 sequel (I'm going to pretend the previous moronic sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 doesn't exist because the makers of this film do), I can no longer claim to have seen the 1999 original again; this is pretty much the same deal but with different characters and better use of cameras.
As with the first film, we're greeted with a title blurb informing us that what we're about to watch is footage found in the woods of Burkittsville, MD -- aka, the Black Hills Forest. We see the beginnings of the footage at the home of a 20-ish aged man named James (McCune, "Shameless"), who has seen a YouTube video that gives him a clue that his sister Heather, who has been missing since trying to document the origins of the Blair Witch, may be still alive in those woods. Embarking on this quest, James seeks the assistance of his filmmaker friend Lisa (Hernandez, La La Land) to record their travels and make it into a documentary, traveling to the area to meet with the YouTuber who shot the footage, bringing along friends Peter (Scott, Walk of Shame) and Ashley (Reid, Words with Girls) in tow. They get plenty of their questions answered in due course, though not exactly the way they wanted.
Blair Witch has had film critics who've championed the work of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett perplexed, because they think they have the talent and vision to be at the forefront of horror genre filmmaking if only they could be given a high-profile franchise to sink their teeth into. They certainly have a known quantity with Blair Witch, but the problem is that most of the reasons that You're Next and The Guest caught on with critics had been because they were very cinema-literate in their approach, while this feature strips away all of those meta textures for a much more straight-forward approach to rehash the vibe and temp that The Blair Witch Project had laid out.
If what you're wanting from a Blair Witch film is a host of boring, irritating characters, nausea-inducing shaky-cam action, jump-scare noises without accompanying things to be truly scared about, and a plot that doesn't kick in until well beyond the threshold for caring a lock about what happens, then this 2016 entry is made for you. There are a few new technological things added: GPS positioning that doesn't work in a locale that has no signal, Bluetooth earpiece cameras to give us more POV shots and more unattractive digital artifacting to complement to shakiness, a drone that has no real purpose in the film except to elevate the cinematography to show the forest from above. If you're wanting a further exploration of the Blair Witch legend, or even to learn more about what happened to the cast of the original film, or their families, since their absence, you're not going to get much to chew on here.
In the search to answer questions regarding The Blair Witch Project, we get no answers, and lots more questions. What's most perplexing is that, despite the first film letting us know first-hand that we're watching footage that was found and released into theaters for us to consume, the characters in this 2016 release seem to exist in a world where that footage recorded from the older sister's crew has not been found or released to the public, or if it has, they didn't learn a thing from seeing it other than there is a house in the woods that they end up unable to find. When Blair Witch rope-and-stick symbols appear, they have no idea what it means. Since the first found-footage film features footage that wasn't really found, one wonder who edited it together. One also wonders how someone found the footage within the dilapidated house that no one can get out of once they're inside.
While The Blair Witch Project will always be the one that kick-started, for better or worse (mostly worse) the found-footage style of filmmaking, whereby film studios had an excuse to purposefully deliver zero-budget, substandard filmmaking and hope to recoup their meager investments, for most viewers, there is no reason to see that film again, because its only hook was its novelty. This retread of that film, and just about every subsequent found-footage release that follows, offers no reason to see the first time.
©2016 Vince Leo