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