Blair Witch (2016, dir. Adam Wingard)
It’s been 20 years since Heather Donahue and her fellow filmmakers disappeared in the woods around Burkittsville, Maine while in the pursuit of the legend of the Blair Witch. In 2014 her brother James found footage online that appears to show Heather alive and well in a rundown house. He takes off to investigate for himself along with three friends, one of whom is making a documentary on the process. They join up with two Burkittsville locals and begin what will be their last days working closer to discovering the secret of these haunted woods.
I was excited when I heard director Adam Wingard and his writing partner Simon Barrett were behind this Blair Witch sequel I was more excited than I might have normally been. I am a big fan of their previous films You’re Next and The Guest, both of which take their genre tropes seriously while having still having a sense of fun about the proceedings. I have been relatively lukewarm about the Blair Witch films. When the original came out, I was 18 and completely got caught up in the faux-realism the filmmakers used via the internet to promote the story. When I finally got to see the film I was pretty let down, and it began my decades-long dislike of the found footage genre. The second Blair Witch film is best left unmentioned as it is just a terrible and un-scary movie.
Sadly, this iteration of Blair Witch ends up being another dull entry into the franchise. My biggest issue with the entire film is the conceit behind the found footage storytelling. There is absolutely no reason why this couldn’t have been a third person film. We get a scene attempting to justify the constant recording where Lisa, the film student friend explains to another character why it is so important she records everyone. She ends up bringing along a drone camera and little ear piece cameras so that coverage can be a bit more expansive. But like all found footage horror films it devolves into either dreary boredom intend to convince us of “how real” the story is or shaky images so incomprehensible there’s no point in watching.
The seeds for a good horror story are here though. The film embraces the role of social media in horror by having the inciting video for the investigation come to James via social media. The mythology of the Blair Witch is restated from the first film, but with a little more clarity. Characters ask the kind of questions we would when told stories like these and get answers that make sense. There is an interesting angle of time not moving in a standard linear fashion once you reach a certain point of the woods and that is a fantastic element of the picture. Rustin Parr’s vanishing house is another classic horror trope that has lots of potential. I was reminded, albeit very briefly, of House of Leaves.
The acting is not atrocious, it feels perfectly adequate which is a pretty big disappointment compared to films like You’re Next and The Guest which had some very solid performances. I’m not sure how choreographed or improvised the film was because of its found footage moments but I can’t help but think that hindered the actors from doing better work. The final moments of the film continue the same well-tread formula we see in found footage horror constantly. The characters are worked up into a frenzy as they have finally confronted the Big Evil so all we get is screaming, barely audible dialogue, and overly shaky camera footage.
For now, I think the Blair Witch franchise should go back to being dead. There is not much meat on the bones because it feels at the end like pretty much any generic local legend. The one element that interested me the most, the concept of time moving at different speeds in the woods for different people had potential but wasn’t enough to make this movie even remotely enjoyable.