If you’re asking why we need another found footage movie – let alone another sequel to The Blair Witch Project – then you don’t watch enough horror movies. The reality is simple. If it wasn’t now, then it’d happen sometime in the future. And if you’re complaining that Blair Witch doesn’t do anything “different,” well then you CERTAINLY don’t watch enough found footage schlock, because if you sifted through the same handy-cam trash I do on a monthly – nay, WEEKLY – basis, you’d be thanking Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, not questioning their surprise horror sequel.
James Allen McCune stars as the brother to The Blair Witch Projects‘s Heather Donahue – also named James – who believes his long-lost sister is still alive after an ominous YouTube clip surfaces. He can’t go alone, so he enlists his best friend (Pete, played by Brandon Scott) and accompanying girlfriend (Ashley, played by Corbin Reid), along with crush Lisa (Callie Hernandez). Together, the foursome meet up with the YouTube clip’s uploader Darknet666 (better known as Lane, played by Wes Robinson) and his female companion Talia (Valorie Curry), who hope to catch supernatural goings-on in the Black Hills Forest. Armed with Lisa’s top-notch documentary equipment (earpiece cameras, a flying drone, surveillance cams), the group heads out in search for Heather and truths, never conscious of the deathly horrors they’re about to face.
Blair Witch is a tense, taught found footage sequel that evokes essences of The Blair Witch Project but with an updated technological advantage. We’re thrown right back into the fold with a new set of campers (still teathered to original characters), more tied-together twig people and more foliage crunching than Jurassic Park. Wingard stays with a minimalistic approach, hunkering down only in a single camping location and that bastard Blair Witch house. There’s nothing fancy to Barrett’s story, as the duo simply focuses on scaring the absolute shit out of you by manipulating nothing but darkness. Our eyes follow illuminating headlamps, both anxious and terrified to see what might be lurking far-off in the blanketing darkness.
At its scariest, Blair Witch strikes claustrophobic, noose-tightening screams brought on either by supreme nothingness in the form of distant rustles, or advancing nightmares once James and his remaining group reach the infamous house. Once inside, both creature and haunted aspects reach an eye-covering high that’ll have you slouching farther and farther in your seat with each passing shriek. Even before that, as characters find themselves split up on different leafy paths, Wingard still commands isolation like a hangman tightening his wicker noose. Once audiences reach the halfway point, it’s like a constant downward plunge on the world’s tallest rollercoaster, steeped in gritty darkness that swallows up any rational thought of safety.
Yet, “game-changer” isn’t the exact term I’d use to describe Blair Witch – no disrespect. “Invasive torment.” “White-knuckled wickedness.” “Terrifyingly intense.” “A rush of horror to the head.” These are all apt descriptors, because the first establishing moments of Barrett and Wingard’s remake are pretty standard in the found footage world. This works, because so many films fail even to get these simple introductory moments correct, but nothing extraordinary happens until the Blair Witch starts ensnaring James’ team in her deadly web. Then we get a jump in energy, glimpses of a gangly harlot and sphincter-clenching chills done right by Team Bingard…or Warrett?
In what’s already been a stellar year for mainstream horror (like, from summer on), Blair Witch adds another spooktacular title to an already lofty argument. The cast plays their victimized roles well enough for Adam Wingard to work his traumatizing magic, as his take on the Blair Witch mythology transports us into an edgier version of a world Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale made legendary. Gone are VHS visions, replaced with high-flying drones and crisper, more visible framings of a beast we might rather not see. Wingard plays around with expected tropes – 100% using them to his advantage – while nonetheless executing a haunted house finale that’s piss-your-pants scary.
Go watch The Final Project if you want to bitch about “found footage bullshit,” and then tell me Blair Witch is garbage with a straight face. Please. I beg you.
Blair Witch brings a jolt of energy to a legendary horror franchise, making for a respectful and uniquely haunting chapter.
Blair Witch Review [TIFF 2016]