"The Blair Witch Project" doesn't work anymore. I saw the movie opening night in 1999 and the slowly building tension, ambiguous horror and abruptly-unnerving ending worked perfectly on my 19-year-old brain. The film kept me up late into the night as I kept hearing what I thought was cackling outside in the fields surrounding my house.
The concept of a found-footage movie wasn't really that new. "Cannibal Holocaust" basically invented the genre in 1980, but "The Blair Witch Project" took the concept of a documentary gone wrong to its next logical conclusion, changing the evolution of horror movies to this day. That right there is the problem. Found-footage movies have been steadily coming out for the last 16 years, so the original "Blair Witch" feels more like a parody now than an actual film.
"The Blair Witch Project" followed Heather, Mike and Josh, three film students who went into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, to make a documentary about Elly Kedward...The Blair Witch. According to legend, Kedward was executed for witchcraft in the 18th century and had been haunting the woods ever since, sometimes causing people to commit horrific murders.
The resulting film is the "recovered footage" that was found a year later, showing their progressively terrible camping trip that goes from fun to dangerous quite quickly. On a $60,000 budget, the film made a quarter of a billion, resulting in the world getting 10-15 found footage movies a year since then.
Since 1999, there have been a few pretty great found footage films ("REC," "REC 2," and "Paranormal Activity" to name a few) and many terrible ones ("Diary of the Dead," "Apollo 18" and many more). Most of them at least tried to do something different with the genre, but "Blair Witch" 2016 feels too much like a repeat of the original.
The film follows James, the brother of Heather, the filmmaker who disappeared during the original. He takes his friends out to the woods to search for her after some possible new footage from the original expedition is uploaded to YouTube. All four of the new characters are uninteresting and painfully annoying, so we can only hope the scares and violence are a worthwhile substitute. But then there were none.
"Blair Witch" is never boring and director Adam Wingard crafts a fun diversion, but as the true sequel (the less said about "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows" the better) to the granddaddy of found-footage horror, this needed to push the genre forward into new territory. There are some interesting ideas about time and perception that pop up intermittently, but the film boils down to a few people screaming in the woods while their cameras shake and capture almost nothing.
The final 20 minutes have a few creepy moments, but this new "Blair Witch" is almost completely scare-free. The jumps all come from loud noises and not from tension, mood and dread. That's something the original knew how to do with no budget and amateur actors. Instead, "Blair Witch" follows the same path through the deep, dark woods—and as fun as revisiting the mythology of the Blair Witch is, nothing new has been found.
Dir. Adam Wingard
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