Talented filmmaker Adam Wingard’s involvement with this sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project suggested good things for a potential franchise reboot but this production line found footage horror is as forgettable as the bait the director lines up for the titular villain.
Disappointingly, Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch is more a remake of 1999’s groundbreaking found footage horror The Blair Witch Project than a sequel to it. That is despite the fact it features a story set twenty years after the events of the original film as the brother of missing filmmaker Heather Donahue documents his own journey into the Burkittsville wilderness from where she disappeared.
Comparisons are a tad unfair but difficult to avoid as 2016’s Blair Witch treads such similar footing, giving new audiences a satisfactory collection of found footage tropes but fans of the original a distinct sense of déjà vu.
Wingard certainly caught my attention with You’re Next, a subversive piece of modern stalk and slash cinema, and so his attempt to rekindle the malevolent spirit of the Blair Witch comes with heightened expectation. Yet, even with the odd moment that gets under the skin (a tent lifting into the air at a hundred miles an hour) and some sustained suspense (a claustrophobic underground sequence that reminded me of Neil Marshall’s brilliant The Descent), Wingard’s effort is uninspired, unimaginative found footage horror.
Indeed, in spite of it looking so much like its predecessor it is everything The Blair Witch Project isn’t: big on budget, big on special effects, and big on cliché. I lost count of the amount of times a jump scare was manufactured out of someone innocuously appearing in front of the camera. Wingard has fun playing around with the silly motivations of his characters, subtly acknowledging them as players in a horror movie, but that artificial sensibility doesn’t work so well as they become fodder for the titular Blair Witch. “She” deserves more than this.
And with a larger budget comes bigger, bolder scale. This results in the fascinating antagonist of the first film losing some of the enigmatic qualities that made “her” an unsettling force to be reckoned with. There are some unnecessary additions too: the untrustworthy couple who tag along with the group provides a disappointing sideshow as well as a lazy subplot; while one character’s problematic foot, which at one point had me thinking about Cronenberg’s body horror, particularly Shivers, is another unsatisfactory distraction.
Welcome is the modern-day tech that joins the group on their expedition, upscaling the forbidden jaunt with HD cameras tracking them by air via drone, headcams, and high definition digital video cameras. This gives the film more angles to play with, more ways to depict the ensuing carnage, but its effectiveness is hit and miss. The headcams provide some immersive, and frightening, depictions of our character’s point of view but the drone camera is rather wasted, it’s only real chance of the spotlight occurring in the truly pointless scene in which a character carelessly climbs a tree to retrieve it.
Blair Witch needed to be smaller, more intimate, less concerned with big ideas and bold staging. It was simplicity that made The Blair Witch Project work so well, its scares so utterly bone-chilling. Adam Wingard’s sequel feels like a version of The Blair Witch Project funnelled through a major studio’s focus group, the result seeing loud noises shoehorned into the film’s moments of quiet, its pacing restructured around five minute intervals between someone or something saying “boo”.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Blair Witch on Blu-ray courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment which releases the film on Blu-ray & DVD January 23, 2017.