One wonders whether director Adam Wingard and Lionsgate studios would have been better off releasing Blair Witch under the working title, ‘The Woods.’ Then again the story would still be the same: The brother of the protagonist of The Blair Witch Project, Heather Donahue, going out into the same forest in Maryland to find out what happened to his sister two decades earlier. However, what Wingard needed was this film to be removed from the original Blair Witch film completely. Simply to stop this film failing to adequately measure up in comparison, which is lamentably the case.
The root of the problems with Blair Witch stem from Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett knowing that The Blair Witch Project was great but not understanding why it was great to begin with.
The Blair Witch Project was a tremendous, ultra-low budget film. With its unknown actors, handheld cameras and lack of actually seeing anything concrete and its superbly inventive guerrilla marketing. This film was genuinely terrifying and completely different. Even now, with a plethora of found footage films Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s film still stands as a singular fixed point in horror cinema. It felt real. Using the same marketing tactic of the far inferior and thoroughly repugnant Italian exploitation film, Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
It is the comments of Simon Barrett in an interview with “Bloody Disgusting” that are most illuminating as to why Blair Witch is such a disappointment
“(The) only thing I really pitched was the other characters; they’d originally conceived the film as more similar to the first film, following its narrative fairly closely, with only three or four characters, I think, but I wanted more characters to give us more scare sequences. I also wanted a unique dynamic within the group from the start, so I pitched the idea of introducing some Burkittsville locals to the group.”
MORE characters. MORE scare sequences. Simply chucking more at something to improve it might make it better is not really an intelligent strategy. Although I realize I’m going to look like the worst kind of snotty, pseudo intellectual when this film takes loads of money and the strategy of more evil bastard behavior makes Donald Trump the US President come November. Nevertheless, it is a Michael Bay strategy to film making and it doesn’t work. Yes there are more sequences to level out the increased amount of characters but it all feels jumbled and rushed and as the film draws on the jerky, handheld camera becomes incredibly irritating. To the point where you’re just shouting “STAY STILL FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!”
Essentially, Barrett and Wingard are merely trying to offer more of what we have already seen. This just overloads things and means things are simply nowhere near as terrifying as the film’s progenitor, which was at times incredibly sparse and relied on cleverly building tension to make those crescendos so much more jarring.
We have days of the cracks building in character’s relationships and strange noises which are viewed via unreliable narrators. Which is what the original trio were. Was there really anything out in the woods? Did they merely get lost and fall victim to wildlife or their own madness? It was a triumph in slow burning tension, ambiguity and psychological trickery.
Blair Witch misses the bloody point completely! It reveals to us something genuinely supernatural with the antagonistic entity. It is, to be fair, on its first glimpse genuinely shocking and unsettling to see that inhuman figure pop out from behind the trees for a split second. However, once that moment passes the shock is gone and you’re left bored as The Blair Witch just rakes over old ground. That sense we’ve seen it all before but with just more of it. It does nothing new with the mythology or the found footage genre in the way films such as The Bay or Cloverfield did. Nor does it have the sheer visceral mania of the excellent Spanish film, REC. Considering how genre literate the brains behind this film are, it is incredibly frustrating that this film looks so generic.
In isolation, Blair Witch is a satisfactory and functional piece of horror filmmaking that will please a good many people. Nonetheless, in comparison to its seminal predecessor though, it looks like a poor clone. The David Miliband to The Blair Witch Project’s Tony Blair.