I’ve been a The Blair Witch Project fan and defender since day 1; I still think it’s terrifying. It was with both great interest and apprehension when I saw this sequel being announced – found footage has basically had its moment in the commercial sun for now so what more could this movie possibly add? Having said that, A Horrible Way To Die, The Guest, VHS, were all films I enjoyed so at least I was confident in the pedigree and talent involved. I see he has also just announced he’s remaking the glorious I Saw The Devil. Is there a German word for being both worried and excited at the same time? Whatever this is, that was me. Anticifearmeich? That’ll do.
We start, as we often do with these sorts of movies, by meeting the ill-fated group in the middle of a plot-building conversation. They have just received an odd email containing some blurry video clips which feature someone running, or possibly being pursued through an old house. The recipient of the email is James, the younger brother of Heather Donahue – one of the three people who disappeared years earlier near Burketsville. It’s the first new footage, or lead, in her disappearance in a long time. James is now an adult himself, and decides to allow his friend Lisa to document his research as part of a student film she is making. James, Lisa, and their friends Peter and Ashley prepare to embark on the same trail that Heather, Josh, and Mike set off on all those years ago – in search for closure or explanation or entertainment. This time though they are coming in more fully prepared – GPS, High Def cameras, cellphones, a drone camera, and even pulling in a couple of locals to help – Lane and Talia who sent the found footage in the first place and claim to be very familiar with the woods and their history. Unfortunately, the y don’t inform the local authorities or anyone else of their plans, or even bring some pebbles to mark their way. You know the moment they enter the woods that they won’t be getting out.
There is a sense of familiarity and inevitability in Blair Witch – both positive and negative. It is a true sequel, but it feels like a reboot. The scares and atmosphere are evocative of the original, but there isn’t anything new or interesting enough to terrify as the original did. There is plenty of meandering through the woods, arguments and tension, and before long the noises outside the tent start and all hell breaks loose. There are innovative moments here but they aren’t fully explored – the loss of time and the related paradoxes, the festering wound, the potential of the drone. Naturally these would be difficult to expand upon given the format and as they stand they provide a further air of mystery, but I would have liked a little more. I don’t have much to say about the characters – none of them are as irritating as many can be in this sort of film, but none of them stand out in any meaningful way. Winguard doesn’t get the opportunity to unleash much of his usual flair and wit until the final act, but there are mini scares and laughs throughout – if you were bored by the first, then maybe this one will hold your interest better.
Once we reach that final act we get into good old ‘picking off one by one’ territory. It approaches being pulsating, it is certainly exciting and mixes action and horror with claustrophobia and the fear of expanse. The film is more visceral and we see more violence on screen than anything covered in the original, though nothing is too extreme as the camera only glimpses or sideswipes the chaos. There is one criminal disappoint towards the end as certain things are revealed on camera – I’ve never been a full advocate of the ‘less you show the scarier it is’ school of thought, but it does apply aptly here. he stupid thing is that I’m happy with the idea of the reveal, but not the execution – there’s a multitude of ways that the reveals could have employed but they went for the most ridiculous and when it is for something so big it leaves a stain that can’t be removed from the film.
If you’re a fan of the original you’re going to see this, in fact I’m sure you probably have already. It hasn’t, and isn’t going to change the world like the original did. It wasn’t successful enough to get anyone interested in making another one, but it is another stepping stone in Wingard’s career. It’s a higher echelon found-footage movie but it doesn’t come close to matching the chills of its mummy or any of the true greats of the genre; it’s just another decent horror movie.