The original Blair Witch Project from 1999 was a genuinely creepy and inventive supernatural horror film that popularised found-footage cinema and ushered in an era of viral internet marketing campaigns. The hype surrounding the film claimed that it was recovered footage of three documentary film makers who, while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland fell prey to a frightening unseen force. The shaky hand-held camera aesthetic gave the film a nerve-jangling verisimilitude not seen in previous mainstream horror movies and it became one of the event films of the 1990’s. Always keen to mine that lucrative vein of Gen X nostalgia, Hollywood now gives us Blair Witch, nominally a sequel to the original film but really just a louder, shinier remake.
Much like the new Bridget Jones film (bet you never thought these two films would be compared), Blair Witch connects to the first film and skips over the lamentable middle child movie, in this case the reviled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. In Blair Witch, James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of Heather from the original, along with film student Callie (Lisa Arlington), their friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) and suspect local ferals, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) venture into the same Black Hills forest hoping to uncover what happened to Heather; this is despite the fact that a massive FBI manhunt was unable to find anything. Equipped with handy-cams, GoPro headsets and even a drone camera, the group film every step of their journey. Unlike the audience, the group don’t seem to realise what’s about to happen. Just as in the first film the group become lost, lose all sense of time and are plagued strange, unseen but increasingly violent visitations at night.
The early part of the film has some effectively unnerving moments that draw on the primal fear of being lost in both the wilderness and the dark. Unfortunately, Blair Witch trades much of the original film’s restrained creepiness for pop-out scares all of which are accompanied by sound effects as loud as an atomic bomb. Also, the original film slowly ratcheted up the violence and intensity of the ghostly attacks thereby placing supernatural events in a believable real world context. By contrast, this film makes a sudden and awkward gear change from low-key mystery to over-the-top horror that kills a lot of the realism. Added to that is some ridiculous behaviour which at times makes the film seem like a horror movie parody as characters run madly into the forest at night and creep around sinister dark basements.
One of the drawbacks of the original film was the Heather character’s incessant whining but that sounded like a lilting harp compared to the endless, guttural shrieking from the characters here. The worst offender is Callie whose screaming almost turns into a Tarzan yodel at one point. Otherwise, the cast are reasonably effective in their roles and at least in the early stages, have the jokey manner we might expect of real people hiking into the forest on what they see as a bit of lark. The character of Lane, who spouts ominous tales of the Blair Witch to the group, seems more like a movie creation than the others,though, and the fact that he looks like a cross between Sean Penn and Chris Lilley is distracting.
Blair Witch has some nerve-wracking moments but with a story that varies only slightly from the original there’s little reason for people to expend their cinema dollar on this rather than pull out the old dvd of the original film.
Nick’s rating: **1/2.
Director(s): Adam Wingard.
Release date: 15th Sep 2016.
Running time: 89 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
- Film review: THE WITCH: A NEW ENGLAND FOLKTALE, from ‘Built For Speed’
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