When it debuted in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was hailed as a true original and, despite having garnered some backlash over the years, the picture was a chillingly effective combination of low-budget horror filmmaking and marketing. It also accomplished something that would appear to be impossible today – to come out of nowhere and become a smash hit, due to the Internet existing in a primitive stage and people not having the access to research everything ad nauseam on their phones.
A forgettable sequel (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) followed, and now 17 years later, Adam Winguard, a low-budget horror maestro whose work has ranged from moderately successful (You’re Next) to very good (The Guest), has rebooted the franchise with a follow-up that, on the surface and according to a few early reviews, sounded like a good thing.
Alas, it would have been best to leave well enough alone. Yes, 2016’s Blair Witch has a few creepy moments, including an ending that is both spooky and completely incomprehensible, but these moments are mostly of the overused found-footage variety that induce sighs and eye rolls rather than shrieks. You know what I’m talking about: objects appearing just out of focus in the corner of the frame, loud bumping noises, jerky camera movements, people or evil beings popping up out of nowhere, and of course, individuals continuing to film what is going on around them, rather than attempting to make it out alive.
The setup for the film is slightly absurd. James (James Allen McCune) is sent video footage that was apparently discovered in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland (where the first film was set) that gives him the notion that his sister, Heather, the lead character from the first film who disappeared 17 years prior, could still be alive (as if).
He gathers up a group of friends – including Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who wants to make a documentary about the experience – and they travel to the woods where Heather was last seen. There, they meet a pair of locals (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), who agree to act as tour guides, but have their own agenda.
Once we’re in the woods, it’s down to business as usual: rustling tents, creepy noises in the night, disturbing stick figures hung from trees, etc. Having grown up in an era with unlimited access to digital media, the crew has GoPros, iPads, HD cameras strapped to trees and even a drone, all of which are used to record the creepy goings-on in the woods.
But while the technology has been upgraded, the story remains the same. One by one, the characters begin to disappear or exhibit strange behavior. The remaining survivors stumble upon the Blair Witch’s house, which is where the first film ended, and the finale is a series of scenes that might upset claustrophobics and involves lot of running around in the dark. The last fifteen minutes of the movie are the scariest, but it’s also difficult to discern exactly what is going on due to the low lighting and wobbly camera movements. The filmmakers rely on this device as a cheap scare tactic to get out of telling a coherent story.
As a horror/genre filmmaker, Winguard has talent. The Guest is an intense shocker. You’re Next can’t be faulted for a lack of ingenuity (although it can be faulted for other things) and his serial killer thriller A Horrible Way to Die, while far from perfect, has an unshakeable mood. I can see why he’d be attracted to rebooting this franchise, but Blair Witch should serve as a warning that sometimes you really can’t go home again (or, in this case, again and again).
Watch the trailer for Blair Witch: