Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, Terror and some Disturbing Images
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson & Valorie Curry
In 1999, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT burst onto the independent scene with rave reviews from critics and divisive reactions from audiences, all while popularizing a found footage subgenre of scares. It’s 2016 and we’ve been flooded with handheld horror for over a decade, but somehow director-writer pair Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett managed to craft a sequel to the most successful found footage horror flick of all-time! However, it might be argued that BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was lightning in a bottle and trying to capture it again might prove to be a fool’s errand.
James Donahue (James Allen McCune) lost his sister Heather to a failed documentary in 1994, but a recently uploaded YouTube video gives him hope that she might still be alive in the creepy Black Hills woods. Accompanied by a group of three friends and two guides/Blair Witch believers, James ventures into the thick forest to look for his long missing sibling. All of this is recorded as one of his friends is looking to make a pretentious documentary for her college course, but the group find themselves in over their heads as it appears the legend of a woods-dwelling witch is very real and deadly…
1999’s BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was a low-budget indie that generated chills from a less-is-more approach and an unusual method of filmmaking. The directors messed with the actors every night and as a result, the three performers seemed legitimately close to having a nervous breakdown. With 2016’s BLAIR WITCH, the budget has been raised to 5 million (over 83 times the original film’s price tag) and more on-screen terror occurs. Rest assured, there’s still a slow build up to the scares, though fans of the first film may find themselves getting restless as we’re treated to details being rehashed for newcomers. Do we really need to hear about Coffin Rock again, or a serial killer who made his victims stand in the corner, and other local folklore that was already covered in the first film?
BLAIR WITCH starts getting interesting when it sets up distinct rules for the titular monster herself and also dishes out new disturbing details about her past. The on-screen witchcraft and demises (which I won’t spoil), provide creepy moments and spooky fun. However, not all of the deaths in this movie are created equal, with two early demises feeling lame and rushed. There’s build-up to one character that seemed to be going in a disturbing body-horror direction and that’s never capitalized on. It certainly doesn’t help that the performances feel like, well, scripted performances, instead of the believable realism that made the first film so damn effective.
The “found footage” is edited together from multiple sources this time around. We get drones, small headset cameras, traditional handheld footage, and surveillance bits. This adds a more creative flare to the sequel and separates it from the two-camera predecessor, but the movie also falls victim to cheap jump scares. There are slow moments of quiet suspense and a relentless climax of suffocating dread, but the movie frequently has characters suddenly popping into frame with a loud noise…which gets really annoying and lazy. This complaint is lessened when people start dying and the extent of the Blair Witch’s powers are revealed with cool ideas, even if they are directly lifted from other better found footage horror flicks (mainly GRAVE ENCOUNTERS and the ending of [REC]).
BLAIR WITCH is far better than it could have been, just look at BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 if you don’t believe me. Still, this sequel never reaches the terrifying heights of its predecessor. There’s fresh creativity, effective scares, and an insane finale that’s damn near perfect! However, the characters are weak with performances that feel too forced, the build-up doesn’t gives us anything new until the witch has almost made her presence known, and cheap jump scares annoy during the first half. BLAIR WITCH becomes great when it simplifies itself into a tense supernatural game of cat-and-mouse. In an age where we’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of found footage horror flicks, 2016’s BLAIR WITCH isn’t nearly as fresh and terrifying as it should have been…but satisfies as scary, entertaining and flawed piece of handheld horror.