Blair Witch chronicles the “documentary footage” of a college student and his friends as they search through the mythic Black Hills Forest for his sister Heather Donahue, who disappeared in the woods years earlier.
From the onset, Blair Witch follows the beats of its predecessor, the surprise 1999 hit The Blair Witch Project, as if the studio and creative team believed that the audience this film is marketed toward has never seen the original film. This, or they really tried hard to pay homage to the film. But this line between homage and retread gets gray.
However, given that this is a direct sequel and not a reboot, homage should take a backseat to extending the mythology of the franchise. The issue with this is inherent within the franchise, and that is the fact that The Blair Witch Project had little mythology to begin with. The first act of this new film fleshes out where it can, and the film unravels into something that may appear new. But this is nothing more than a standard horror narrative.
I am undoubtedly not the first to say this, and I won’t be the last, but found footage movies should not be shown in theaters. It is an excessively nauseating experience. The overblown “Ultrascreen” I watched the film on gave me a headache before the real jostling even began.
The movie is filmed exactly as you would expect if you’ve seen the original. It is the same shaky madness, minus the initial mystique that made the 1999 film a breakout success.
While utilizing the same shaky camera, Blair Witch ignores other factors of realism that the original utilized so successfully. One character cuts her foot, and every time she slips and falls afterwards it sounds like her leg is snapping. Sound mixing purposefully amplifies certain things for effect, while simultaneously stripping away ambient noise that one would otherwise hear in the woods.
This is without mentioning the instances when all semblance of diegetic sound gets thrown out the window. The use of non-diegetic sound effects is not as egregious as in other found footage horror films, but watching this one can only relate back to The Blair Witch Project itself, which uses no post-production sound effects.
Blair Witch is a movie that follows all of the original’s plot points while doing away with what was innovative and intriguing about the original film. It does not feel like reality, and the narrative moves in directions that quickly do away with reality.
Of course, one cannot truly be expected to see this film as real; not as with the original. But if the movie is going to use the Blair Witch brand (and not be like Book of Shadows), it has to play by the movie’s rules.
The film is not without its effectiveness. Shaky or not, their are certain sequences in the third act involving both familiar and unfamiliar territory that adequately ramp up tension. It is more jump than suspense, a horror genre crutch that is inexcusable, but for its audience it does its job.
What Blair Witch boils down to is a literal headache dressed up with a marketable brand name. There is nothing in Blair Witch that will live on in the minds of horror fans. It lacks both the originality and cinematic kinship to its predecessor to be culturally relevant or anything but genre standardism.
Blair Witch: D+
It is impossible for me to divorce this movie and the original in my criticism. However, even if I were to see this movie with no Blair Witch brand on it, I would come out with the opinion that the film provides nothing original for the horror fan. Without divulging spoilers, the plot points that diverge from the original film are strikingly similar to As Above, So Below or Grave Encounters. This is clearly the case of a VOD-quality film breaking into a theatrical release given its brand marketability.
This all said and done, I do have respect for Adam Wingard as a director. The Guest is a wonderful, stylish thriller. But this does not have the same feel as other Wingard works; it is more of a mimicry.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)