By Jack Dignan
The Blair Witch Project, released back in 1999, was one of the first found footage horror films, and it remains one of the most popular ones of all time. It was a game changer, freaking audiences out for years, even convincing a lot of them that what they were watching was actual real life footage. The general public, at the time, was not prepared for the terror that unfolded in that movie, and it started a trend that's still going on to this day. Low budget found footage horror films. I can respect what the original Blair Witch Project movie did. I understand what it achieved and the effect it had on people, but when I watched the film, it just didn't work for me. I simply did not enjoy it, nor found it remotely scary, so when I say that this new Blair Witch movie is a step up from the original, that's not really the biggest compliment around.
The Blair Witch Project begins with a title card explaining that a documentary crew went missing in the woods, and their tapes were found and compiled together into the movie you're about to watch. A similar title card is presented at the start of this movie, and from there, we have our film. When James (James Allen McCune) was younger, his sister, who was the protagonist in the original film, went missing. Ever since then, he's been convinced that she's still alive, and so, he becomes the subject of a school documentary project his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is making. The two of them, along with the help of their friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), go out into the woods to search for her, but they soon discover that the stories of the Blair Witch may actually be a little more than just stories.
If the original Blair Witch Project is to be considered groundbreaking, haunting and original, which many claim it to be, then this new sequel is none of that. It's a generic, by the numbers found footage horror film that doesn't have a lot to really add to the table. It is, essentially, the first film done all over again, but with a much bigger budget. The story is plot beat for plot beat the same, but with a bigger range of characters to be potentially killed off, and advanced technology to allow for some creepier imagery.
The premise of having a group of characters camping out in a haunted woods is nothing we haven't seen before. It's the same old story that's been done to death, and to varying degrees of terror. I try to be lenient when it comes to horror plots, as the genre of horror isn't all that diverse and the range of plots to draw from is rather slim, but when a film is repetitively falling for every single horror trope, then it gets under my nerve. Let's look at The Conjuring films, for example. Both of those films have very unoriginal, familiar premises, yet they manage to avoid the tropes and bring in a shit tonne of scares. Blair Witch does none of that.
Admittedly, there were multiple moments throughout where I did jump, and I did find a few of the scares to be rather inventive. Plus, there's even a rather grizzly and grotesque aspect of the plot that, while not really needed nor explained, did achieve what it was trying to do, and that was gross me, and the rest of the audience, out. It was difficult to watch. But other than that one grotesque moment and some moments of inventive filmmaking, nothing about this film was too scary. It lacks suspense, and the moments where I did jump were simply caused by a loud, abrupt noise, usually from another character pouncing up from behind.
I walk home after a lot of the movies I see, and with horror films this always tends to be in the dark, as I think I mentioned in a review earlier this year. If I can safely walk home alone in the dark after watching a horror film, then it didn't have an effect on me. It clearly didn't stick around in my heads afterwards, clogging my mind like many other horror films have. Walking home from Blair Witch was a peaceful experience, featuring absolutely zero terror throughout. I'm not awfully fond of being alone in the dark, but after watching Blair Witch, I was honestly fine. It had no effect on me. It just wasn't scary enough.
I love Adam Wingard as a director. You're Next and The Guest are unreal, and the segments he directed for the V/H/S franchise are both golden, but Blair Witch is a major step down in his filmography. It's by no means an awful movie, even if I'm making it sound like one. I was interested in a lot of the things that went down, and even if it does follow a little too closely to the original, the ways he plays around with some of it, especially the ending, is pretty neat. He just can't get it to flow as a coherent movie, cramming in too many ideas yet trying to simplify it down into a basic, lost in the woods plot, therefore losing a lot of the scares. There's so many interesting things about it that could work in a different movie, but when put together, they just don't.
On top of that, the writing was not fantastic, either. Written by Simon Barrett, Wingard's frequent collaborator, the characters are mindlessly idiotic. During the first act, they honestly came across as smart, interesting individuals, and while James was the only character that was given any sort of depth, I was happy to spend time with them. Then the plot starts to kick in, the 'scares' begin, and that's when their idiocy started to come through. They were consistently making stupid decisions, doing exactly what they said they weren't going to do earlier on in the film.
Before continuing with this review, I must advise that what I am about to talk about could be considered a mild spoiler. It's nothing too major and it won't ruin the experience of watching this movie, but I did not know about it prior to watching and don't want to ruin it for those who don't want it ruined. But with that said, towards the third act of this film, we do get our first glimpse of the Blair Witch herself. She finally, after three movies (although I haven't seen the second one) makes an appearance, and she is creepy. Well, creepy in a generic Hollywood sort of way. She's a CGI monster we only see in brief flashes, and the design is unnerving, but oddly familiar, even if I can't put my finger on what exactly it is that she looks like.
To sum up, Blair Witch lacks suspense and interesting characters, and the plot feels way too familiar to work, but there's also plenty of interesting and original ideas presented, and the grotesque imagery is extremely effective. It's not a great film, and I don't recommend seeking it out, but you won't be bored out of your mind watching it either.
2 1/2 Stars