By Thomas Simpson
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most important films in cinematic history. Although it wasn’t the first entry to the found footage genre, it was certainly the most significant as it smashed the box office and still remains one of the most profitable independent films of all time. The clever marketing campaign is widely regarded as giving birth to viral marketing as the filmmakers developed a legend behind the film, creating a grey line that made people question, was this real? A poor sequel followed a year later and then nothing. Rumors of a sequel often surfaced but nothing ever materialized. Not until the summer of this year when Adam Wingard debuted the trailer of his new film The Woods, a faux title that masked its real name – Blair Witch.
Ignoring the events of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Wingard’s movie returns to its genre roots, even if the results are less convincing this time around. Set approximately 20 years after the first film, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) is the brother of Heather, one of the original filmmakers that went missing in the woods near Burkittsville. After discovering a grainy video online he’s convinced it features his sister and makes plans to go find her. Along with his friends and the couple that uploaded the video, James enters the woods, disregarding the warnings that there’s a curse upon this land.
The advancement of technology allows the filmmakers room to play with more toys. Better quality cameras are to be expected in this day and age but it gives the film too much of a polished look. It’s sensible to include GPS equipment as audiences would wonder why it wasn’t there, and the use of a drone, although underutilized, is effective for the brief time it’s used.
Wingard knows how to create fear and Blair Witch isn’t without its frights. There are scenes that elicit terror and leave you squirming with anticipation. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between as the director incorporates tired horror tropes especially the over use of false jump scares. The decision to show more leaves little to the imagination and although it’s unnerving it doesn’t produce the same scares as the first film which left much to the imagination.
Blair Witch works for the most part as a horror film, but doesn’t succeed as a sequel. The found footage element feels choreographed and overproduced, paling in comparison to how well executed the Blair Witch Project was. It’s a massive improvement on Book of Shadows but it falls short in the latter half despite its best efforts to frighten. You shouldn’t have any issues turning the light off at night.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.