Cinematic Releases: Blair Witch (2016) – Reviewed

It’s been seventeen years since Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez changed the face of contemporary horror with The Blair Witch Project and made mainstream what in reality Cannibal Holocaust did with cinema verite thirty years prior, but whatever.  Arguably the birth of viral internet marketing with accompanying promotional faux documentary interviews and a carefully constructed belief that the three documentary filmmakers looking for the dreaded Blair Witch were still missing.  

The concept of found footage in the aftermath of catastrophic events as a stylistic approach is commonplace and debatably overused now, but few people recall (or wish to for that matter) the one that opened the floodgates.  A year after the still divisive film became an indie horror hit, costing a mere $60,000 to go on grossing around $248.6 million worldwide, Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows arrived and what might have been a continuation of the first film drove a nail in the coffin of the series.  It all seemed to be over until out of nowhere, Adam Wingard’s apparently fake titled project The Woods was in what we now know as Blair Witch, a film that not only ignores the events of Blair Witch 2 completely but functions as a direct sequel involving key characters connected to the original.  Channeling the look, feel and high watermarks of the 1999 film while giving it a jolt that transcends that film, Wingard debatably has made at once a solid two hour V/H/S style scarefest while also stepping backwards against the heights reached by his still best movie, The Guest.

Having worked with the found footage genre previously on V/H/S and V/H/S 2, Wingard more or less bumped into Myrick and Sanchez who themselves contributed a segment to V/H/S 2.  With the idea having come about to maybe revisit the lore of Burkittsville, Maryland and all the terrors that came deep from within its woods, this new Blair Witch takes full advantage of all the resources of a real movie while keeping the look and beats of the original.  It’s a retread but I enjoyed how much fun Wingard heightened everything, particularly in the sound department which takes the micro budget foley effects of the supernatural woods and amplifies them to a terrifying screech.  Camerawork mostly mimics the sophomore look of the first but is undeniably technically superior and even takes advantage of drone camerawork as a plot device.  Acting is, of course, stronger than the original although to that film’s benefit, the filmmakers elicited real reactions from their cast members through pranks and trickery in the same way the chestburster scene in Alien was executed.  What I liked about this film the most over the original was the energetic pacing, which doesn’t take long for all Hell to break loose at all and much like Safe Haven from V/H/S 2, it continues to build into an all -out primal scream with some gruesome gore even.  What I didn’t like is its clearly derivative, even channeling elements of [*REC] into the fever pitched finale.  The film more or less is a reimagining of The Blair Witch Project with a budget and while that’s fine it is also more of the same.

This is my happy face. You should see my sad face. 

Adam Wingard isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, with viewers pretty evenly split on You’re Next while mostly finding a following with his surprise hit The Guest, which makes him the perfect director for something like Blair Witch.  He knows we’ve all seen the first movie and gives us both exactly what we expect and then some.  Yes it is a one-upper of a movie but I didn’t mind that so much watching it.  There isn’t anything particularly new being done here but the energy and fear generated by the thing with many surprises along the way make this a fun package for found footage horror fans.  Those who aren’t into the genre aren’t going to get anything here that will change that view and for Wingard, who really works best when doing his own thing, is more or less confined by the first film’s lore and highlights.  As a director for hire movie, which it is, its one of the best but Wingard can do better.  I suppose he wanted to try his hand at something where he relinquished some of his freedoms and he definitely threw in his touches here and there like a bar scene you could swear had the same DJ from The Guest.  To be fair Blair Witch is also Wingard’s first feature length found footage effort but by working within what went from a student film to a brand name in horror, it’s a step backwards for him.  

Don't be scared. Share me.


 - Andrew Kotwicki