I can say with certainty that I’ve never had a more frightening experience watching a film than the first time I saw The Blair Witch Project. Revolutionary in its time for its found-footage camera style and unique ad campaign, the 1999 original is widely considered one of the most influential horror films ever made. It’s a film that I hold a deep respect for, and I even regard it as one of my all-time favorite horror films.
Now, 17 years later, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett attempt to revitalize the legacy of the series with a new film simply entitled Blair Witch. Being a massive fan of the original film and the previous collaborations of Wingard and Barrett (which includes You’re Next and The Guest), I was ecstatic going into Blair Witch. As much as I hate to say it, though, Blair Witch comes off as nothing more than a soulless, uninspired, and even somewhat disrespectful retread of the original rather than a worthy successor.
Blair Witch is set in 2014, picking up 20 years after the events of the original. Our lead here, James (James Allen McCune), is the younger brother of the lead that went missing in Project. In the film’s fiction, the tapes that Heather and her crew shot those 20 years prior were found and released for public consumption, and ever since, James has been obsessed with his sister’s disappearance.
At the outset, James finds a new video that shows a shadowy figure in the same dilapidated house from those original tapes, and he believes it to be his missing sister. James enlists the help of his two friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid), as well as Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a film student interested in filming a documentary chronicling their search, and they soon head into the woods where his sister once disappeared.
Of course, the documentary subplot allows for the return of the found-footage concept as well. Lisa carries a camera at all times, while everyone else in the group wears earpiece cameras, so you’ll get to see the film through each character’s perspective. The group even has a drone they can send up into the sky in order to get shots of the surrounding forest.
But even with these new toys capable of showing the action, much of Blair Witch’s more intense moments get lost in translation due to poor editing. Your point of view is switched from character to character in rather disorienting fashion, making it hard to follow along with exactly what’s happening or who it’s happening to. And while the drone could have allowed for some dynamic, aerial shots, it’s scarcely utilized and may as well not have been in the film at all.
One of the many reasons I found Blair Witch to be such a drag was due to its lifeless, annoying characters. Whereas the original does such a good job of setting up its main characters, equipping them with their own personalities, Blair Witch is entirely lacking in this aspect. It’s hard to feel sympathetic or scared for any of the characters here because you’re never given any reason to care about them in the first place.
One of my favorite aspects of the original film was its opening act and how exceptional it was in its world building. You watch the leads perform interviews with the residents of Burkitsville, Maryland, the town neighboring the woods where the Blair Witch tale originated. It works so well in that film because the townsfolk appear as being normal, down-to-earth people who have bought into the deep lore of the Blair Witch and those woods, effectively convincing the audience to believe in it, too.
In Blair Witch, we’re presented with another two characters along the way, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who claim to be the people who found the recent video that’s prompted James’ expedition. Similar to the townsfolk of the original, these two act as the plot device in order to give some background on the woods and the Witch. However, their introduction comes off as a far less interesting take on this scene. The residents in the original felt real, whereas Lane and Talia immediately come off as crazy conspiracy theorists, making it hard to trust anything they say from the get go.
My ultimate gripe with Blair Witch is that I didn’t find it to be scary in the slightest, and it’s likely due to how much it sticks to the exact same formula as the original. Although I adore The Blair Witch Project, it’s decidedly less effective when you know what happens, and therefore it’s never nearly as frightening as that initial viewing. This totally works against the new Blair Witch, as it strays so little from the events of its predecessor. If you’ve previously seen Project, then the new film likely won’t frighten you at all. It’s especially disheartening to note that many scenes rely on cheap jump-scare tactics — some of the worst in recent memory.
There truly isn’t much that I did enjoy about Blair Witch. There are some interesting concepts Wingard and Barrett play around with, but these ideas are never fully explored. Similarly, the ending is fairly enthralling in comparison to the dulling 80 minutes that precedes it, but the finale ultimately falls flat by showing too much and having little payoff.
Blair Witch is a rather shoddy attempt at a sequel. It instead comes off as nothing more than a bombastic, highly produced remake, losing along the way all of the charm that The Blair Witch Project possessed in spades. If you were excited about seeing this, I suggest you opt for watching the original instead. Whether it be your first or hundredth viewing, it will no doubt be a much more satisfying experience.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor