Director: Adam Wingard
Writers: Simon Barrett
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reed, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
A review by Ryan M. Holt
To everyone’s surprise, a small Lionsgate film teased as “The Woods” actually turned out to be a sequel to the 1999 pop culture staple The Blair Witch Project. This true sequel, because no one in their right mind counts Book of Shadows, is simply titled Blair Witch.
The film follows the original and is presented as a modern found footage film. An opening title card tells the audience that the movie has been cut together and assembled from various sources after the plot of the movie has unfolded. Because of the found footage nature of the film, there is no explanation of who found the footage, but that is just a secondary thought to the horror that the film shows the audience.
Blair Witch succeeds because of the inherent amount of tension brought through the lens of a ‘first person’ film. The story follows James, the younger brother of the The Blair Witch Project‘s main character Heather, shortly after an online alert goes off with new footage that shows that his sister might be alive. Of course Lisa, a friend of James, needs to film something for her documentary class, and she decides James’ trip into the woods to find his lost sister. James and Lisa decide to bring along James’ life long friend, Peter, and Peter’s girlfriend Ashley. After meeting up with two conspiracy theorists who uploaded the footage online, the six head out to the woods to find the mysterious house shown in the online footage in hopes of finding Heather once and for all.
Spoilers: These woods be haunted as shit.
The chaos that unfolds is pretty standard for a horror film, but what makes Blair Witch stand out the most, is how everything is shot and accomplished on a practical level. While the original Project was filmed on various filmed based mediums, this is a horror story in the digital age. Instead of getting super cropped nostril shots, we get high-def scares. The characters are all given Bluetooth ear mounted cameras, which gives the film more of a first person feel than seeing through the lens of a handheld camera. The kids even bring a drone so they can see above the tree line if they get lost or need to know which way to head. These various points of view give the movie more depth than other films shot this way. Each cut in the edit allows you to see more of the area than a traditional film, and it makes everything feel bigger. You get a better sense of the environment, and how creepy it is.
As far as pacing is concerned, the first half of the film feels more like a documentary, where as the second half of the film feels more like the original Project with lots of running and a sense of nausea. I did have to get up twice just to get out of the room because I could feel my stomach twisting and turning from the camera work. This shouldn’t be seen as a negative though, as the film work is part of the story as much as the characters and the setting are. I just should have probably eaten more instead of sitting in the theater with a mostly empty stomach. Thankfully, the plot is secondary to how the characters react and handle certain situations. Early on it is set up that James is an EMT, and his knowledge comes in handy after Ashley ends up getting a cut from a rock in a creek bed. This was the truly scary stuff, as the film doesn’t shy away from showing what a real world infection looks like if it isn’t treated properly.
Certain elements of the plot are intentionally left unexplained, as there isn’t anyone present to give a giant exposition dump. While it is frustrating from a storytelling perspective, not being privy to everything makes the story feel real and terrifying. The characters don’t know what’s going on, and between the lack of exposition and the filming style, the movie feels like a true terror instead of a horror film cop-out.
See it! While I am by no means an expert on horror film, Blair Witch was entertaining from start to finish. The camera work can be a little unsettling, but that is part of the films aesthetic and feels like an organic progression of the story. The performances feel genuine given the absence of an exposition fairy, and thanks to technological advances, goosebumps are bound to travel up your arm at least once.