Review: Blair Witch

After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his sister’s experiences in the demonic woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling.

The original Blair Witch Project (TBWP) was a film that changed the horror genre. Coming at the back-end of a re-invigorated decade following the likes of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer it was a surprise hit and a film that the like of had not been seen in mainstream cinema.

Ruggero Deodato is considered the originator of the found footage style with Cannibal Holocaust but this only made up part of the film and for the next 19 years no one realised the potential it held. It was also not a mainstream release and therefore at the time the TBWP came along it was very much an untried proposition. I was in America at the time this came out (to put into context it was the same week as The Sixth Sense and matched it financially for a number of weeks following release) and, in the same way The Office made fools of some in the UK when it first came out, there were some who thought they had just seen the death of three teenagers. Found Footage at the time was not a genre but a term for what people thought they were witnessing. By the time it reached UK shores, the hype had come with it and the knowledge of what the film really was.

All the things which made the original the phenomenon it was are all the things which cause the sequel, The Blair Witch, to fall down. And coming from the talented duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You’re Next, VHS, The Guest) it makes it all the more disappointing in that it is very formulaic and has all the trappings that found footage films fell into time after time. The same trappings that they managed to overcome in the excellent VHS; an example of found footage being done well.

The film follows James (James Allen McCune), the brother to the original’s Heather. He is being documented by friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) as he wants to go into the woods where his sister disappeared to find out what really happened to her. James’ long term friend, Peter (Brandon Scott who was the best of an average bunch) and his girlfriend (we presume) Ashley (an annoying Corbin Reid) sign up to help. To help them on their way they find the person who states that he was the one who found the tapes to lead them into the woods. For fans of the original this story line will be very confusing as he would have been a toddler at the time of the disappearance plus it was supposed to be the cops that found it.

To be fair a lot of what happens in The Blair Witch makes no sense. We have the introduction of time manipulation, some sort of voodoo and completely unexplained body horror. The characters also make exceptionally odd decisions all the way through the film. Had there been an inkling of character development these decisions may not have been so odd but you’re not going to find flatter characters than these for some time.

I’ll quickly cover the found footage trappings that were present here; camera angles which don’t make sense, sound quality that could only have been recorded through a pro microphone yet one isn’t there, the interrupted footage along with the static sound which is used to hide cuts (digital doesn’t behave this way), infinite power to the cameras as well as recording space, the use of the words “stop recording”, the fact they continue to record (at least the original made it so the cameras were their only way of seeing anything as they were the light source – this new lot had torches) even when faced with mortal danger. There are more but these are the main ones.

The Blair Witch sadly feels much like a remake/re-imagining of TBWP rather than a sequel. Much as people considered The Force Awakens was to A New Hope. And doesn’t deliver enough invention and give us something new and exciting to be the sequel the original deserved. Saying all that the last ten minutes were quite intense and picked the film up somewhat but was too little too late to really save the day. It is not a bad film

and will find an audience that enjoy it but for me it didn’t do what it should have done which is re-invigorate the genre, much as Scream did for slashers rather than deliver a generic, formulaic piece of forgettable entertainment.

I am a huge fan of Wingard and that probably aided to my disappointment. The reactions from the screening I was in were very mixed so my opinion is certainly not the voice of the masses and I wish my opinion were more favourable but sadly it isn’t. Maybe now we can put the Blair Witch to rest and leave her be.

I was 18 and in film school when The Blair Witch Project essentially changed the face of not only horror but film marketing. Gone were the cheap to make knock off wanna be Teen-Scream slasher movies, now we were subjected to a barrage of films where some pillock ran around screaming shaking a camera and tried very hard to make a film that garnered 1/50th of the success the Blair Witch Project had. With the flop of Book of Shadows merely a year later, the Blair Witch franchise was dead. The effect the film had on both marketing and technique is still to this day very understated and way ahead of its time.

Fast forward 17 years on from the release of the original and we are faced with Blair Witch. A supposed sequel to the original films from Haxan. But something didn’t feel quite right – granted the pacing and production value is better than the original (mainly from the advancements in digital recording), but the film is also under the eye of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Wingard and Barrett in recent years have made a run of successful and well received films – most recently The Guest and Your Next. Blair Witch however is the first time they are taking on not only the found footage sub genre but also an existing franchise. Does the new Blair Witch film succeed where other found footage films have just bored us to tears, to put it bluntly…… no.

The entire film feels like original but just made for todays audiences – i.e. now with drones and YouTube. The rest of the story plot points are the same. Teens in the wood – stick men – getting lost – weird sh*t – the farm-house, we’ve seen it all before. Bar a few asides to ‘trying to find my sister’ we are watching a remake not a sequel. Not a reboot or a continuation of the story, it’s a remake. It’s frustrating to watch as while its technically a well made film it brought nothing new to the table,. Think the Thing prequel from 2011 that was just a remake that no one wanted to admit as such. If someone had been as bold enough to admit its a remake, then maybe I wouldn’t have been as disappointed and frustrated by the 90 minutes I wasted in the Odeon.

There are a few nice jumps a few nice scares – unless you watch horror films as they stick out like a sore thumb. Acting is ok as is the cinematography, sound mix and CGI are all excellent, it’s just a big pile of icing on disappointing nothingness.

Blair Witch is it certainly NOT a game changer in horror, or even remotely noteworthy in the found footage. Hopefully this will pull in some money to reboot the franchise giving us the period horror of the Blair origins film, something I’ve been waiting for the last 17 years.

Blair Witch is at cinemas from the 15th September (UK) 




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