Say what you will about remakes and sequels and prequels and all the other shit Hollywood is heaving on to the screens these day, but I’m excited for a new journey into the Black Hills of Burkittville, Maryland. It’s a great, unexplored world to toy with and director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) has yet to fail us. Please sir, don’t fail us now.
At this point, with every film gracing the silver screen a spin-off or sequel or remake or whatever else they’re calling unoriginal properties these days, it doesn’t seem completely crazy that Lionsgate is releasing a sequel to the inventor of the shaky-cam, found footage film, The Blair Witch Project. Or even that they wrangled hot-as-hot-hot fire horror director Adam Wingard to take the property on. These are the times we live in. So, before you stumble into Blair Witch, ask yourself, “How much does it bother me that this is a sequel of a beloved (abhorred) modern horror classic?” or even, “What am I expecting from a step back into the world of the Blair Witch?” Because either question is going to decide for you, savvy film watcher, if you should be even considering purchasing a ticket and schlupping your way into the theater for two hours of found-footage, shaky-cam madness. Because, Blair Witch is certainly a sequel (new characters, new creepy crawlies, new, horrible ways to bite the dust) but it could be a remake. Wingard, and his writing partner Simon Barrett, have applied a touch of gloss to the original film’s nausea inducing panic, but for the most part, in spirit and in composition, this is The Blair Witch Project for a new generation. A fledgling documentarian (Callie Hernandez) wants to make a film about Heather’s (the snot-soaked girl from the first film) brother James (James Allen McCune) and his extended search for his Blair Witched sister. With two friends, and a pair of stoner, urban legend seekers in tow, they venture into the woods, and well, shit goes down. Wingard and Barrett aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with this one, both the spirit and the execution of Blair Witch hew almost exactly to the film that came before. And in doing so, they manage to make a film suffused with the same sort of creeping dread of the first film. The first thirty minutes of Blair Witch are a master class in making boredom feel ominous. We watch the intrepid quartet of bumbling filmmakers set up their film work, drive places, and then, slowly enter the woods, learning just enough about each of them to feel slightly attached. But as an audience, we know that shit is going to hit the fan, and because Wingard drags out the set-up (almost too long to be honest) the weight of their entry into the woods is brutal. Sure, once they get into the woods, the filmmakers use their entire bag of jump-scare tricks to get your heart racing and your pulse pounding, but it’s the quiet moments, between a tree falling or the discovery of a creepy wood figure that allow the ominous tone the directors have adeptly fostered to really breath. This is classic jump-scare horror almost to a tee – big noises, characters shrieking on to the screen, lightning and noise – it’s all here, and for the most part it works. And for the most part this is a solid follow-up to the landmark original. But that’s the thing, the original Blair Witch Project redefined what you could do with horror, and trying to base this, a lovely homage (but nothing more), to that, well, it’s impossible. This film isn’t going to change the way you look at horror filmmaking, but it’s a well-crafted, low-budget shocker that does just what it sets out to do.
One Last Thought:
This film terrified me. Seriously. I covered my eyes through much of the end of the film and screamed, out loud, more than once. Afterwards I slunk to my empty home and jumped at every noise, every flicker of the lights, every voice that drifted in through my window.