words by Lola Josephine
First thing I need to admit is that I have not seen the original Blair Witch (1999) film, I know as a horror fan this is a heretical statement, but what can I say, I guess, it just didn’t have enough appeal for me to seek it out. So when the more recent revamp came out I went into that cinema completely blind, with no expectations.
Whether that is a good or bad thing, I’m not sure. I could certainly tell that a lot of the audience were fans of the franchise from the gasps, chortles, and exclamations that emanated from the crowd behind me – not all of them positive reactions. The premise is this… James Donahue (James Allen McCune) has found a video on YouTube that he believes shows footage of his sister Heather, who went missing from the Black Hills Forest in 1999 – during the making of the original film. James, his filmmaker friend Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), his best friend Peter (Brandon Scott), and Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, to meet the people who uploaded the video, a peculiar, punky, hillbilly couple Lane (Wes Robson), and Talia (Valorie Curry). The couple have promised to show the gang where they found the camera containing the footage, and James hopes that this will bring him closer to finding his vanished sister. Tensions between the two groups begin to show when Lane and Talia insist on accompanying the group on the all-night trip. After some creepy fireside ghost stories, some subterfuge and some orienteering fuck ups the group splits in two (James, Ashley, Peter, Lisa and then Lane and Talia). Suddenly everyone is lost in Black Hills Forest, where the rules of day and night cease to exist and, ultimately, the power of the Blair Witch is the only authority. Overall, this film did the job it set out to do, it was effective in delivering some well-timed jump scares, and maintained a level of ominous tension throughout. That being said, as far as horrors go, it was somewhat lacking in passion and soul. It was as though I was watching a horror film that was computer generated, and then directed and edited by a robot. Yes I suppose it did tick all the boxes, but it was lifeless, and just rehashed old scare tactics. This film, rather than being an imaginative, authentic, and nostalgic sequel to the master of found footage horror, turned out to be a boring and repetitive duplication (I know what you’re thinking, she HASN’T EVEN SEEN THE ORIGINAL!?! Believe me, I could just feel it in the groans coming from the audience behind me, which oozed disappointment and dissatisfaction.) There was no real delving into the origins of the Blair Witch – other than a passing mention in a campfire story – and no attempt to resolve the mystery of Heather (and the rest of the original gang’s) disappearance further than: “There’s a scary ghost witch who tricks you, terrifies you, then kills you… duh!”
At the end of the film we find ourselves back at the magic Blair Witch lair, which disappears and reappears seemingly at the witch’s will, for the pièce de résistance of the film. There were some redeeming moments in this sequence, the use of the camera as a tool for looking behind you played on the infamous scenes of Heather’s tearful (and snotty) monologue in the original Blair Witch, as well as producing moderate to high levels of scare. The only other truly chilling moment involved the snapping of one of the stick made voodoo dolls, which was impactful, but it was a short-lived fright.
The director/writers really missed a trick by not doing anything more with the dolls at all. There were just so many places where this film failed to give the audience enough. Either things were left unexplained and unexplored (what about the man who allegedly killed all those children throughout the 1940s? Who was he? What’s his story? And why did he burrow tunnels that lead to nowhere under the house?) Or they were just plain unresolved (Where did Peter go? He was stood in the corner a moment ago.
Was that Heather? And what the hell happened to Ashley!?!) It’s as if somebody got all the ends of rope together, as if they were about to tie them all up, and then just left them there because they couldn’t be bothered to do a proper job.
Words by @Lola Josephine