Blair Witch (2016)
Directed by Adam Wingard
Rated R. 1h29m.
Review by Tommy Cashman
“Just down right disappointed” is something one might say after watching Blair Witch (2016). It isn’t what I said, no, my response was more of a gentle exhale accompanied with a frown, but everyone is different.
The film begins twenty years after Heather Donahue, the main(ish) character from the first film, The Blair Witch Project (1999), goes missing in the Woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. When a new video gets recovered and posted online of what appears to be Heather, James Donahue, her brother, feels inclined to search the woods, hoping that she may still be alive…somehow (perhaps living off wild peaches and oak leaves). James is accompanied by three of his friends: Peter, Ashley, and Lisa, who, of course, wants to film the experience.
After the earliest documentary footage was recovered, police and volunteers searched the woods, but were unable to locate the cabin shown in Heather’s images. Knowing it would be difficult, James turned to the Burkittsville couple who found and uploaded the new video, Lane and Claudia. The group also brought with them top of the line gear, such as: GPS technology, night vision and an aerial drone.
Upon entering the woods, the weak are separated from the…well, less weak. Peter openly mocks Lane and Talia for believing in the Witch and her powers, creating turmoil between team members, and Ashley cuts her foot wide open on a rock not but thirty steps into the hike, demanding the group to set up camp early for the night. While sitting by the fire, Lane and Claudia tell stories about Blair’s past and her affiliation with the Woods. Here, Lane explains that the Witch cannot harm anyone until they spend one night in her woods. And as the group would find out, he was right.
As far as the plot goes, it was okay. It’s basically the exact same film as the original..which could be taken as a compliment.. if the original film didn’t exist. One of the major reasons why the original film was so successful was not only because it was secretly produced and released to the public as a true story (yeah, they printed newspaper ads for the missing teens and had the talent hideout until the film debuted), but it also kickstarted the found-footage genre and was the pinnacle of low-budget horror. That being said, if you want to create a sequel, almost twenty real years later, have it be rated R, and use the exact same elementary techniques, it better be f***ing horrifying, and this film just wasn’t.
Unexpected sounds, sudden jump cuts and things flying into frame may be enough to scare the faint-hearted, but they were all way too easily anticipated. And what was up with Ashley’s foot? They hyped up her gross foot for the entire movie, in fact, it was all we knew about Ashley as a character…that her foot was gross, then nothing came of it. It was made out to be some mysterious plot point but ended up being just another failed scare tactic. She was running, then stopped, pulled a bug out of her foot (which may have been frightening if I hadn’t been expecting more to come of it), kept running and then got killed soon after.
Which brings me to the characters. Come on, guys. If character development isn’t the most important way to a successful film, it’s certainly second, not dead last. I think you were holding the list upside down. Even if you’re making a plot-driven film like Blair Witch, at least give the audience something to work with. Give us character qualities that are relatable, so that when one of them gets crushed by a tree or snapped in half due to voodoo magic, or falls from a tree, or stabbed in the neck, or looks at the Witch, we are at least upset they’re dead. If you want to scare an audience, make them feel as if they’re there, let them be friends with the characters before they meet their untimely demise.
Being such a big fan of the first film, I sat down hoping to, at the very least, gain information on the Blair Witch, all while having a few jump scares send my socks out the window. Although my socks remained on my feet for the entire length of the film, I did, however, learn a thing or two about the lore. The fact that Blair can’t harm you until you spend the night and that time itself is broken for those in her territory make going back to watch the original film a tiny (and I mean a smidge) bit more interesting to watch. However, when creating a sequel, making the previous film look better should be the last thing you do.
Admittedly, although I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it or that it was good, I like to think director, Adam Wingard, and writer, Simon Barret, tried their best. Subtle details in the beginning and a little twist ending really illustrates the reach of Blair’s powers, but again, this is nothing that we didn’t already know or assume from watching the original. They dug themselves an interesting grave, but a grave nonetheless. I can see their dilemma: how do we follow the footsteps of the original but also bring to light new elements of the story? And to that I say, maybe the footsteps weren’t meant to be followed.
Final Review: If A Friend Has It On, Sure, But Don’t Have Them Rewind It.
Follow Copper Arrow: