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Blair Witch
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Blair Witch (2016)

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Plot Summary:
"After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his sister's experiences in the demonic woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 18 March 2018 My Rating: out of 5


James Allen McCune plays the brother of one of the three unlucky student filmmakers who ventured into the woods near Burkittsville in search of the legendary Blair Witch...and never came back. McCune, along with several buddies will venture to those woods now some fifteen years later, as there is supposedly a chance his sister is still alive. Cue the alleged spooky stuff happening. Well, eventually anyway.

Whether it has great re-watch value or not, 1999's "Blair Witch Project" did its job the first time around. It was 99.99% build-up, but the first time I saw it I was at least nervous that something could happen at any given moment, and the ending is very effective. I admired the filmmakers for coming up with something relatively fresh at the time. Then a sequel was made that did everything wrong and no one seems to want to admit that the first film was any good anymore. The brand name was tarnished somewhat. Now comes this 2016 film from filmmaker Adam Wingard (whose "You're Next" was genuinely good) that is a kinda sorta sequel involving a supposed relative of one of the characters in the first film. Scripted by Simon Barrett ("Dead Birds", "Red Sands", "You're Next"), I wish I could say that it restores some prestige to the "Blair Witch" name, but it's actually one of the worst films of its year.

For starters, as with a lot of 'found footage' films, the filmmakers are incompetent and shoot themselves in the foot early on. Firstly, we get a corny title card giving us the same basic thing as the original, but with a 2016 technological upgrade. Then I notice the quite recognisable James Allen McCune, or as I called him when I spotted him: That creepy older dude Debbie wanted to hook up with on "Shameless". 5 minutes in and the central conceit has completely failed. Did no one involved watch the first film? At least those actors were new to me. More importantly, they didn't seem like they were acting in a fictional film. The same cannot be said of anyone in this film. These people are nothing other than actors playing pretend, though ironically enough McCune is the best actor of the bunch by a country mile. That's fine for a normal horror film where you suspend disbelief for 90 minutes. A 'found footage' flick however, must go the extra mile in convincing you that what you are seeing is real, even though you know it's not because you've consciously decided to watch a fictional film in the first place. Still, it's a small but important thing that a film like this absolutely must get right or else the whole thing collapses. It's fundamental, and the makers of the original seemed to get it. Wingard...he don't get it.

The jerky editing is not only infuriating but even though it doesn't go against the rules, it does take you out of the faux 'reality' as well. The original's footage felt 'as is', this feels like it's already been edited in post-production. I know you don't want to do things exactly the same way as the original, but this just doesn't begin to work and Wingard seems to have completely missed the point.

If I can neither buy into the faux-reality of a 'found footage' film nor find any of the characters remotely interesting, a film is pretty much dead within minutes for me. That's definitely the case here. Watch the original again instead. It may no longer hold any surprises, but at least it knew how to make its central conceit work. It kept things simple, for a start. Very disappointing, Mr. Wingard. A failure on every level.

Reviewer: Richard Mansfield @MansfieldDark
Location:London, UK
Review Date: 12 September 2016 My Rating: out of 5

Last Friday I headed into town to Odeon’s ‘Scream Unseen’ where they show a new release horror film but its title is kept secret until the film starts. Clues were given out on Twitter and Facebook, the buzz was pointing to ‘Blair Witch’ the new and surprise sequel to 1999’s game-changing ‘The Blair Witch Project’. We were all pretty sure this would be the case but there was a definite sigh of relief and excitement as the words ‘Blair Witch ‘ filled the screen. I loved the original and the reviews from Comic-con where the sequel was unveiled were ecstatic.

The original film claimed to be the missing footage of three film students who headed into the Burkittsville woods in search of the legendary Blair Witch who was reported to haunt the woods. The footage seemed to suggest the students were killed but their remains were never found.

This time another group of unlucky campers head to Burkittsville woods in search of answers. Leading the expedition is film student James Donoghue who has a very personal connection being the brother of Heather who went missing with her 2 fellow film makers when James was 4 years old.

James wants to find his sister and make a documentary of their findings. New footage has surfaced on the Internet and it seems to hint that Heather is still alive so James sets out with a group of plucky friends armed with a bevy of the latest camera equipment and go on the trail. They meet up with a local couple who claim to have found and uploaded the tape containing the sighting of Heather and set off into the woods.

Blair Witch covers the ground of being a direct sequel as well as a reboot. Whereas Heather and co had 2 cameras to record their demise this group have loads. Each has a personal ear-mounted camera as well as DSLRs and a drone. This allows us to see everything from each characters viewpoint. The original was rich with atmosphere but in 2016 mainstream horror is all about the jump-scare and Blair Witch is no different. There's very little time for any atmosphere to build so keen are the filmmakers to shoehorn in the next jolt which is usually someone appearing in the frame or suddenly grabbing a camera. The cast in 2016 are all a little too perky. It almost feels like they know they're in a Blair Witch sequel. The original was improvised but the dialogue felt very authentic, here everything feels scripted. I re-watched the original the day after and the performances are in a different league, maybe the new cast just look too perfect, too ‘Hollywood’. There are the inevitable bullshit arguments and calls to 'turn the damn camera off' somethings fans of found footage will have seen a million times. The film has been meticulously put together in terms of its found-footage aesthetic, but it remains nothing than a simulation. The more they have added the faker it feels coming off more like more like Blair Witch: The Ride or a video game. Admittedly, the ending is fraught and claustrophobic but I didn’t find it particularly scary. It becomes such a bombardment of screaming and shakeycam there’s never a moment to feel any terror.

If you're a fan of the original you may get a kick out of seeing a new take on the story but I think the films main achievement is the fact that it was kept a secret until the recent unveiling which felt very in spirit with originals marketing campaign.

A competently made re-tread of The Blair Witch Project

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