Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Running Time: 89mins
Words by Scott Murphy
Confession time despite a lot of critical acclaim and the fact it is seen as genre classic by many I was never a fan of “The Blair Witch Project”. This may be partly because I saw it during its peak hype period which may have adversely effected my viewing pleasure or maybe it is because I found the main character Heather only slightly less irritating than Jar Jar Binks or Ruby Rhod. I don’t doubt its influence though as it kicked off the cycle of modern found footage films that continues to this nor do I doubt them impressiveness of the production cost/box office ratio.
The reason I mention is this is because I did not come to this latest film with any expectation I was neither stoked that there was a new Blair Witch nor mortified they were trampling the original with this sequel (everyone pretty much pretends Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
didn’t happen from fans to this film itself).
Impressively Wingard and co managed to keep it under warps that it was an extension of the franchise, filming under the title “The Woods”, until a trailer premiered at San Diego Comic Con when it was revealed a mere two months before it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
The story focuses on the brother of the original character Heather’s brother, James Donohue (James Allen McCune), who has been obsessed with his sister disappearance since it happened 20 years ago. After receiving some footage which may or may not show his sister in it he decides to go back to Burkittsville to search the woods. He is joined by his film student friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who wants to film the search for a documentary project as well two of his best friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid). They are also joined by a strange local couple (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who sent them the footage and go under the moniker “Darknet 666”.
As you can probably guess it is not long before weird goings on start happening in the woods. While mentioned in the intro I was not a huge fan of the original it did set up a tense sense of foreboding from quite early in its run time. Here it takes a while to get that sense with some of the early scares missing the mark as there is no sense of them being trapped in this place. This partly due to the fact as well as a digital camera they have ear cameras and also a drone camera. This is all pretty cool and allows the filmmakers to cleverly get round the whole “why do they keep filming” conundrum inherent in found footage movies but also makes you sometimes forget you are watching a found footage movie and not a conventionally filmed horror.
There is also the problem that the film seems both too much like and not enough like the original. As many of the beats of the first film seem to be slavishly followed (Wingard is a big fan of the original) which can be frustrating but equally where it diverges is that it makes the horror and the Blair Witch herself much more explicable which seems somewhat ill-suiting for the series. There is also an over-reliance on loud fake-out jump scares, something many modern horrors are very guilty of, to point where one of the movie’s own characters actually complains about it.
None of this actually make its terrible. It is entirely solid and watchable but not much more than that. There is also some decent stuff as well though such as the stuff surrounding a twitching Evil Dead-like wound Ashley ends up getting, the fact the tension and creepiness is cranked up in the third act nicely, also they seem to play more with the time slip nature of the forest than the original and there is a wonderful scene of claustrophobic horror near the finale with Lisa scrabbling her way through the tunnels under the Blair Witch house. Although the finale itself tips in to silliness.
Overall: A solidly entertaining if somewhat uninspiring horror. A bit of a disappointment coming from Wingard who has previously given us such excellent slices of genre entertainment as “You’re Next” and “The Guest” but it is not without its effectively sinister moments.
Words by Scott Murphy