Blair Witch (2016)
Often it is important to strike while the iron is hot. Sometimes, though, it's too hot, and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, the directors of The Blair Witch Project, knew that was the case in 2000. While initially quite popular the movie began to suffer a backlash after people realized just what the movie was - 80-some minutes of three awful people getting lost in the woods. And, by awful people, I mean the characters; found footage horror was new, so a lot of audiences had a hard time separating the actors from their characters, especially since they used their real names.
As a result of Artisan Entertainment wanting to cash in they hired director Joe Berlinger and rushed out Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 a year after the original. It made some money initially, but it basically hobbled any hope of a series. Rather than found footage it was more of a regular horror film and, from the beginning, it made it clear that its existence was to profit off of the original. Berlinger, to his credit, wanted to make both a horror film and a movie that parodied the media hype and reaction surrounding the original, but apparently his vision was cut to pieces by the studio.
With the Blair Witch mania fading and the Paranormal Activity series largely taking over the mantle of found footage horror the original movie, and the sensation around it, faded into nostalgia. It was one of those things, like Y2K, that defined 1999 and makes a great question on trivia night. It was not something anyone expected to be resurrected. Yet, in 2016, we got another Blair Witch film, this time from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett.
James (James Allen McCune) is the brother of Heather, the documentary filmmaker that, with her two companions, went missing in the Black Hills Forest out side of Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994. He sees a video online supposedly taken in the same house where the original Blair Witch tapes were found and, reflected in a mirror, he sees what he thinks is the face of his sister. Thinking that his sister might somehow still be alive and trapped there he convinces his best friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and his two other friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to come along with him to find out.
After arriving in Burkittsville they meet up with the couple that made the tape, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry). They agree to take them to the house where it was filmed. While camping the group hears a number of sounds and then wake up the next morning to find stick figures set up around their campsite. Spooked, they decide to head back to their vehicles. However, Lisa soon figures out Lane and Talia set up everything. Despite the protest that it was to purposely scare them into leaving the woods, the group gets separated. Quickly lost, the four friends find themselves pursued by unknown creatures in the woods, while the very forest itself seems intent on imprisoning them.
In my review of The Blair Witch Project I lamented that they didn't try and push the idea of the forest itself being the malignant entity rather than the witch. It had the opportunity, particularly beginning from the part where the group finds they have hiked all day just to return to the same spot. Obviously I am not the only person who thought this way, because this is part of the twist that happens about the middle of the film. At that point it does get interesting, and there are some definite tense moments once the group gets separated. Unfortunately, where the original group was unlikeable, this group is bland.
That's unfortunate because a bit more of the lore is revealed and, supposedly, we're supposed to sympathize with these guys. I think a lot of the early problems can be blamed on Adam Wingard. Somehow a professional, known horror director manages to make things less interesting than three amateurs handed cameras and sent off hiking. I think it's also even more of a testament that the original benefited from being a happy little accident as well as the hype machine behind it. Still, Wingard seems to be able to work well when its pure action. The problem is it seems to take forever to get there, and the attempts to ramp up the action drag.
That is disappointing because this movie had to have some reason to exist in 2016 and, honestly, it does not. There were better, and worse, found footage films released in the intervening years, and The Blair Witch is pretty middle of the road. Also, it commits one of the biggest sins of modern horror cinema, and that is tons of jump scares (often accompanied by camera blips and audio screeches) prior to actually getting to anything even mildly exciting. It is nowhere near as bad as Book of Shadows, but it wasn't even noticeable enough to get a Razzy. And, with that, the whole Blair Witch series just fizzled out.
The Blair Witch (2016)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard