EXPECTATIONS: A re-invigoration of the found-footage genre.
REVIEW: If there is a film that you can think of the top of your head that had the best marketing strategy, many would say that it would be The Blair Witch Project. With just the perfect timing of the Internet and the matter-of-fact documentary film-making, it started the first viral marketing campaign and everybody, including myself, were swept up by it to the point that the majority of the world thought that the legend of the Blair Witch was true, and that there were three people missing in the woods. Family and friends of the people in the film were swarmed with sympathy cards and letters, showing care for their supposed loss of loved ones. With its genuine acting from its three leads and the realism and restraint applied from the filmmakers, The Blair Witch Project is a horror classic.
Which up to this point in 2016, it’s very strange and daring to do a sequel to a film like this. Trying to do a marketing campaign for a sequel to this is hard, so when it was revealed that it was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, there was a mixed reaction. Some were pleasantly surprised due to how they kept the film secret for so long, but some were displeased due to the fact that Hollywood is currently drowning in a sea of remakes, reboots, re-tellings and whatnot. But with talents like Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (famous for their horror contributions like You’re Next and The Guest), it couldn’t possibly be any worse than Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. Can it?
Set 20 years after the Blair Witch events, the film follows a group of college students and their local tour guides, who enter the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to see if the disappearance of James’ sister (played by Heather Donahue in the first film) is connected to the Blair Witch. It was said that a videotape of the incident was found and that Heather was briefly seen in the video out in a dilapidated house in the forest, which prompts James and his friends to go out into the Black Hills Forest. So they pack up with their latest in digital film technology and navigational systems and venture into the woods. But as night falls, the students realize the legend is all too real after they are visited by a menacing presence.
Now let’s get straight down to it. Did I like the film? Yes. Did I think the film could be better? Hell, yes. With a director like Adam Wingard, you can definitely find a technically competent and polished horror production in Blair Witch, but is it too polished? What was great about The Blair Witch Project was its sloppiness in the film-making, which achieves audience immersion that the film is really found-footage, and not a film. In the case of Blair Witch, video glitches majorly happen on a narrative cue and it takes the audience out of the film at times.
Speaking of taking the audience out of the film, there are jump scares in the film. Jump scares in a horror film are never going to die, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be done right, but in the case of Blair Witch, there are far too many, and half of them are more like punchlines than actual scares. At one point, a character actually says “could everyone stop doing that”, when a person acknowledges their presence by touching them on the shoulder. You would think that this witty remark (courtesy of writer Simon Barrett) would result in no more jump scares of the like from then onward, but Wingard doubles down on them, which can wear the audience out.
The acting from the young cast are all fine, as they convincingly all go through the emotional and physical wringer once the horror bears down upon them. Corbin Reid in particular, is a great sport when it comes to her character’s experiences with the Blair Witch. But when you compare to the actors in The Blair Witch Project, they all come off more like actors than actual people we are witnessing. It certainly doesn’t help that these are actors who have starred in other projects before this, unlike the actors in The Blair Witch Project.
And considering that the marketing campaign for this film is to keep the idea that this film is a sequel to The Blair Witch Project a secret, you would think that the film itself would keep up with that level of ambition. But unfortunately, it doesn’t. The film sticks so lavishly to its source material to the point that it almost feels like a remake than a sequel. And the mythology of the Blair Witch isn’t expanded upon that much either, leaving a very big missed opportunity.
But despite all of these flaws, Blair Witch is still a very competent horror film and Wingard still brings the requisite scares with energy and ferocity. Those who expect the minimalist approach of The Blair Witch Project will be disappointed but those who want it loud and proud will find plenty to enjoy, especially in the riotous final act, where the tension and suspense almost become unbearable. It is a bit disheartening that the biggest flaw of the film is its association with The Blair Witch Project. If it was just known as The Woods, as it was previously claimed, it might’ve gotten a better reception. But alas, expectations are a drag. It still beats Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, which by the way, has no book in the film. There’s no where else to go up from there.
Wingard’s ferocious and energetic direction brings out good scares
Good performances from the cast
Good production values
One hell of an intense ending
Lacks the immersion and realism of the original
Annoyingly laughable jump scares
This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett