Today’s “found footage” horror movies owe a debt to The Blair Witch Project, the original found footage film from 17 years ago. That movie was a smash hit thanks to the “found footage” that had never been shown in theaters, which left some people initially believing the events in the movie actually happened. Since then a slew of horror movies (most notably the Paranormal Activity series) have found success by featuring “found footage,” thus making the time right for taking another crack at exploring the Blair Witch mythology, while at the same time disregarding the awful sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Even though director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) does have some tricks up his sleeve that he reveals in the final act, it’s not enough to save Blair Witch, which feels completely unnecessary given its lack of scares or originality.
College students enter the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to see if the disappearance of James’ sister is connected to the Blair Witch. As night falls, the students realize the legend is all too real after they are visited by a menacing presence.
If you’ve seen The Blair Witch Project, then you’ve seen Blair Witch. Playing out as a beat-for-beat carbon copy, Blair Witch feels like an updated version with new technology. A slow introduction to the characters and their motives? Yes. Seeing our characters go into the woods to figure out the mystery of this supposed witch? Yes. Slowly, things start to go haywire and our protagonists get lost in the woods for endless days? Yes, again. Things get crazy in the final act, which ends with no resolution? Once more, yes. Be it horror, or any other genre for that matter, you expect the plot of the sequel to be with new, exciting aspects that we didn’t see in original. Unfortunately, Blair Witch fails to bring anything new to the table and instead relies on the same setup and scare tactics from The Blair Witch Project, which feel outdated in today’s horror movie landscape.
The cast of Blair Witch does a good job with what they’re given, but Valorie Curry and Wes Robinson stand out the most. They play the local residents helping guide James Allen McCune’s character (the brother of the girl that was never found at the end of The Blair Witch Project) and his friends as they search through the woods. Adam Wingard’s track record demonstrates that he knows how to assemble a solid cast and set up nifty set pieces. Blair Witch tries to make good use of its promising cast and setting, but feels all too familiar when it comes to slowly building up the anticipation for the encounter with the evil that surrounds the characters.
While Blair Witch is largely boring and includes the same tension-inducing noises in the woods setting that made The Blair Witch Project memorable, the final 20 minutes of the 2016 sequel are where the movie briefly shines. Making the audience feel as if they are put in the corner of a room with no space to move as they watch the horror unfold, Wingard tightly maneuvers the action through the woods as the protagonists try to escape the evil presence lurking around them. The intensity of the final act puts the audience on the edge of their seat, keeping the Blair Witch from feeling like a total loss. Despite leaving us with more questions than answers, the final 20 minutes alone could have made for an excellent short film.
The horror genre has been particularly strong this year thanks to The Witch, The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, and Don’t Breathe. Sadly though, Blair Witch is a misfire for Lionsgate, who is in desperate need of a new franchise. A few months ago, Blair Witch was originally titled The Woods in an attempt by Lionsgate to keep the project a secret right up until its release. In the early promotional marketing material under its original title, The Woods looked frightening, nerve-racking, and original.
What sounded like a great concept–seeing protagonists fend off nature (or some other evil)–that could’ve changed the horror game is instead a frustrating sequel that ends up being filed under the already-too-long category of, “Unnecessary Horror Sequels.”