‘Blair Witch’ treads through familiar woods
Brian Boylen | Wednesday, September 21, 2016
It is a rare thing for a horror movie to make any sort of tangible cultural impact. Most seem to come and go, failing to be anything beyond the final destination for Friday night thrill seekers willing to see whatever the latest horror flick is. This was not true for the original “The Blair Witch Project,” whose faux documentary style reportedly convinced some viewers at the original screening at the Sundance Film Festival that the footage they were seeing was real. Beyond that, “The Blair Witch Project” served as an introduction of found footage style filmmaking to mainstream audiences — a technique that has now become almost synonymous with 21st century horror movies. However, despite the saturation of found footage films, none have captured the raw authenticity of “The Blair Witch Project.” Unfortunately, “Blair Witch” is no different.
From a surface-level view, there are no striking differences between these two films. Both involve a group of camera-wielding friends venturing into the eerie Black Hills Forest to uncover its mysteries, all the while filming a documentary. However, the stylistic difference between the two is immense. The original begins with grainy interviews of town locals that feel authentic. The actors look like they actually live in a small town, and the conversations have an unscripted nature to them, such as when a mother’s small child repeatedly interrupts her story by hitting her in the face. This realism is nowhere to be found in “Blair Witch.” Every actor looks like they could be found in your average TV drama, and many shots are supplied by an expensive video camera that a college student somehow managed to obtain. There is even a remote controlled drone that fails to do much other than make the movie feel bigger. This upping of the ante from the original is a recurring theme throughout the film, as it bleeds into almost every aspect of it.
From a plot standpoint, “Blair Witch” is actually somewhat compelling. The narrative follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune) who is embarking on an expedition to the Black Hills to learn the truth of what happened to his missing sister, Heather, one of the characters from the original movie. Joining James are his friend Peter Jones (Brandon Scott), Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley Bennett (Corbin Reid) and film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez). Lisa, possessing an impressive amount of film gadgets for a college student, doles out earpiece cameras to the squad, which provides the movie the ability to switch between different points of view at will. The group heads out to the forest, but not before being joined by eccentric locals Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry).
From here, “Blair Witch” takes a similar approach to the original; weird things start happening, tensions flare between stressed-out characters and the audience is left on the edges of their seats, unsure of what will befall the characters next. While this tension escalates in a similar way in both films, the directions they each choose to go at this point are drastically different. “The Blair Witch Project” keeps this palpable suspense wound tightly until the credits are rolling. It never overplays its hand by so much as even showing a flash of the nefarious creature hunting the group. “Blair Witch,” however, takes the action dial and turns it up to 11 out of 10 for the entire last half hour of the movie. There are knife fights, falling trees, flying tents and several shots of the Blair Witch herself. The film doesn’t try to scare viewers by making them wonder what horrors lay just off screen; instead, “Blair Witch” shows the audience exactly what they should be afraid of. Some may actually prefer this to the almost anticlimactic ending of the original. However, there is something to be said for the verisimilitude of the original since real life doesn’t follow a clean narrative structure with a defined climax.
In “Blair Witch,” director Adam Wingard has crafted a decent horror flick. Its greatest crime is that it is a generic thriller masquerading as something more. When considered outside the shadow of “Blair Witch Project,” it is not a bad movie by any means. Unfortunately, avoiding this comparison is impossible, and thus, so was avoiding disappointment.