‘The Blair Witch Project’ has, like it or not, lived far beyond perhaps its initial quality deserved. When it was first released in 1999, there was a genuine belief that what we were watching was real, that this footage of people disappearing in the woods was actually found in the woods in Burkittsville, Maryland. 17 years later, safe in the knowledge that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ wasn’t, in fact, true at all, Adam Wingard jumps on the hot topic of the Blair Witch and delivers yet another horror film to cinemas in 2016. Originally called ‘The Woods’ before the big reveal at San Diego Comic Con, ‘Blair Witch’ has been on the receiving end of a lot of negative reviews. Contrary to popular belief, I found ‘Blair Witch’ to be remarkably entertaining.
Following the same found footage trope of the original, but with a modern twist, ‘Blair Witch’ follows a group of friends as they investigate the same Blair Witch of the first movie. Their investigation comes two fold; firstly, to find out whether the legend is true, and secondly, to trace what happened to Heather, the sister of our lead James (McCune), who went missing back in 1999. And so begins the creepy trek through the forest.
‘Blair Witch’, thankfully, doesn’t mess around. It has a brisk 90-minute run time, and the characters are on the road to Burkittsville within the first 10 minutes. Despite the immediacy of the action on screen having a detrimental effect on character development (namely, that there isn’t any), I got the idea that Wingard knew exactly what he wanted ‘Blair Witch’ to be, and what the prospective audience would want from the film. It spends more time on the forest, the creepy atmosphere, and branches snapping mysteriously than anything else in the film, and this focus gets a huge pay off as the film reaches its finale.
The fairly relentless quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD approach to the film could very easily become annoying to some; there is a long stretch around the midpoint of the film where there was loud noise after loud noise. At the time, it became tiresome and predictable, but once the film was finished, I actually came to appreciate this in hindsight. We came to expect these cheap jump scares, so when the film hits the final 20-30 minutes, those expectations became entirely subverted, and moments where jump scares were expected just didn’t happen. Wingard purposely upset the rhythm of his film to throw his audience off guard. It certainly had this effect on me, and I can confidently say this 20 to 30 minute segment is one of the most stressful times I’ve had at the cinema in a long while. My hands didn’t leave my face from the moment the film truly snaps into focus.
‘Blair Witch’ does have an updated take on the genre. Found footage has gone under quite the transformation over the last 10 years with the on-screen filmmakers finding new ways to film things. Where the stellar ‘Chronicle’ had its protagonist fly his camera around the room with his telekinetic powers, ‘Blair Witch’ steps into the 21st century with the inclusion of first person cameras strapped to our characters’ ears, night-vision cameras, and even drones. Side note, the opening title card says the footage on screen was from May 2014, which threw the inclusion of drones into question, but that’s getting into semantics. The drone provides nice overhead shots of the forest while remaining faithful to the format, but it’s worth saying that the film works best when it cuts out the new tech and sticks to old fashioned hand-held camera shots. The final segments of the film are largely first person by using the ear-strapped cameras to provide a genuine first person POV, not quite in the way ‘Hardcore Henry’ had it, but you saw every head turn of the characters. It added to the stress because these shots were uninterrupted; they provided a view of the forest that felt really immersive.
In short, ‘Blair Witch’ shouldn’t be as good as it is, but I liked it! A sequel to a film 17 years old that has become something of a running joke among literally anyone in the world who starts filming something in the dark, shouldn’t be this well made. It’s certainly flawed, because despite how quickly the characters get to the forest, the first 45 minutes of the forest is very typical horror film stuff; strange noises, erratic camera movement, character development trying and failing to be established. However as I’ve said, there is a definite turning point in the film, you will know it when you see it, that really turns it into a genuinely scary, intense, creepy thriller. What you don’t see, or rather what you think you just saw, is scarier than what you actually do.
I can’t help but feel ‘Blair Witch’ has been on the receiving end of some very harsh criticism. It’s entertaining, it’s creative, and it is genuinely scary once it finally gets going and doesn’t let up until its final frame.