Review: Blair Witch
PLOT: James, the younger brother of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT's Heather Donahue, receives a video that appears to show the infamous footage of her final days in the haunted Black Hills Forest, where the fabled Blair Witch resides. Setting out with a group of friends and two strangers who know the area, James plunges into the woods to find out what really happened to his sister.
REVIEW: I was definitely among those on THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT bandwagon when it first came out in 1999. For me, the fear of the unknown is much realer than any masked stalker, and that little movie's effective toying with our emotions was one of the more startling theatrical experiences I had had up until that point. Obviously, having seen it multiple times since, the film has lost some of its initial power, but I still can't forget how much it stuck with me that summer.
Now we have BLAIR WITCH, which I actually saw months ago when it was still known as THE WOODS. Walking into the screening room, I had no idea I was about to see a BWP sequel (in the same exact screening room as the first one, no less!), but I was happily surprised when it started and it became immediately clear that I was getting the long-awaited follow-up. (No, BLAIR WITCH 2 doesn't exactly count.) Does it have the same raw power as the original? No. It's scarier, I suppose, just because director Adam Wingard is more skilled at suspense and filmmaking than Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick were back in the day, but it's still just a found footage movie, which we're all so very used to at this juncture. That's not a hard knock on the film - it works on its level - but I think we've seen so many films of this ilk by now that it's near impossible to find any new tricks up this particular sleeve. Even the addition of a drone and go-pro cameras don't add too much to the proceedings, the name of the game is unaltered: run, scream, whimper, freak out, repeat.
Like the original, BLAIR WITCH is fairly simple in set-up and execution. The group is a bit larger this time, and there's an element of tension among them because two of their number are slightly suspicious outsiders, but once they get lost in the woods the payoffs are basically the same. If you're anti-found footage, BLAIR WITCH isn't going to convert you, but if you're willing to be patient with the format, Wingard rewards you with a handful of nerve-jangling spooks. The original didn't rely on jump scares to goose the audience, but Wingard employs them well, and I can't deny I was jolted more than once and left appreciative of the experience. Jump scares get a bad rap in the horror community because it's easy to dismiss them as "cheap," but it's always fun when they're done right. James Wan knows how to utilize them, and so does Wingard here. I will say, however, that the movie isn't as fun as Wingard's THE GUEST or as thrilling as his YOU'RE NEXT. If anything, BLAIR WITCH is a bit of a step backward, but there is the sense Wingard just had to get this one out of him, so you can't get too worked up over it.
As for the cast, they're... fine. No one here really stands out, and they are perhaps slightly less realistic than the original batch of actors, whose naturalistic performances lent BLAIR WITCH PROJECT an added sense of haunting immediacy. You can predict that this gang isn't going to fare too well in those woods, so there isn't much in the way of surprises in store; it's more about how they'll get theirs. There's one really cool death scene that has unfortunately been spoiled in the trailers, but it was a sincere shocker when I first saw it. There's also a honey of a freaky sequence where a character is wedged in a tunnel (also spoiled in the trailers) that is one of the more unnerving scenes I've seen in a horror movie this year.
BLAIR WITCH is a solid rendition of an old song. Not an instant classic or guaranteed to be spoken of fawningly in 20 years, but you get what you expect... if you expect a found footage movie with some decent scares.
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