Blair Witch (2016) - Originally I was not very excited about this film, the Original The Blair Witch Project (1999) although a real game changer for how small budget horror could be made and marketed, it was not the best of films. Most people remember the tent scene and the final scene in the abandon house but forget that most of that movie is about people lost in the woods making incredibly stupid hiking decisions. They may also forget that in the end we really don't seen anything, nothing about the demise of the characters is shown on screen. I remember being in the Kenmore movie theater when the film opened, obvious a victim of the advertising and the lights came up. I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure the film can be a marker for the rise of the found footage era and it made a shit load of money with its clever marketing campaign with the spreading of B roll and creation of the mythology documentary. Still there was something missing from that movie, a villain and I don't mean a villain like the piss poor judgement of the characters. It was missing the killer the one we want to despise and fear, instead there was this origin story but the villain never really materializes.
I did start getting excited for this film when I saw they (the studio) had brought on the writing, directing team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. Barrett a talented, successful writer, if not financially at least with respect to his body of work, Dead Birds (2004), A Horrible Way to Die (2010), You're Next (2011), The Guest (2014) all are good solid films and his writing compelling. Wingard worked with him as director on those last three films mentioned and is a real talent in his own right. I really love both You're Next and The Guest and when I saw the team attached to this project my interest level went way up. So it was with a bit of excitement that I went off to see this film and that my friends does not happen often to this 50+ year old horror veteran.
Going to the first show of opening day is not the best way to catch the reaction of the general public but it does ensure that a bunch of noisy teens won't be present. The film is definitely being pushed as a big weekend movie, with seven previews before that actual film started rolling. Incarnate , Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachael McAdams, Ouija: Origin of Evil still looks very entertaining from the previews. Annabelle 2 , Resident Evil: The Final Chapter looks to be just that. I don't know if anyone is still looking forward to those films. If not maybe they will with Resident Evil: A New Beginning. Then there were a couple previews of films the studios feel they really have to sell to make hits. Deepwater Horizon and Hacksaw Ridge the first pisses me off in principle making the second greatest ecological disaster (the Chernobyl disaster is only greater) in the history of the world being turned into a hero story for those responsible for keeping it from happening. Hacksaw Ridge the latest reclamation project for anti-Semitic director Mel Gibson is about a soldier in WWII who refused to carry a gun but saves a bunch of his fellow soldiers to regain respect is Gibson's way to do the same.
Blair Witch is the sequel to 1999's The Blair Witch Project. In that film a crew of three are making a documentary about the Blair Witch a fabled spirit of Burkittsville MD and her (the Witch) creating a child killer in the same woods years later adding to the story of the forest's bad mojo. They get in the forest and very quickly show their incompetence at navigating through the woods. They can't read a map or use a compass so they are lost before they actually are. Lost and on each others nerves the ante is upped with rock cairns appearing outside their tents and noises in the night. It was a great bit of myth making back in the day and an amazing buzz creating advertising campaign. It was also an excellent take on what you can do with video by passing big movie making for a more personal hand held approach. Eventually Heather the lead character is alone and find the house where the serial child killer did his work under the witches influence. The ending was tense but you never saw anything it was a whole bunch about creating in the audiences mind what they imagine to happened. That disappointment took away a lot of what was built for that film.
The new film written by Simon Barrett ups the ante all around and with great effect. The film picks up the story 14 years after the first film. James (James Allen McCune) is the little brother of Heather from the original. He has been haunted by her disappearance when he was just four years old. He has come across a video on the internet that he believes is the last piece of video showing her in the house in the woods outside Burkittsville. Filming him is Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who is doing her school film project on his search for what happened to his sister. His and her mutual interpersonal interest in each other is hinted at but not exercised. This seems a bit of trend as the love interest has become passe in film these days. They with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) are going to head out to the woods to try to find what they can and maybe James can find peace with his sister's demise. They head out to meet the people who claim to have found the video Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) who proceed to force their way into the adventure. So already we have upped the ante by having twice as many characters as the original film. They are going to show the group where they found the video and James hopes that by doing so he may find some clues of what happened to his sister.
Upping the ante also means using modern technology on the trip to record the proceedings. We get a exposition laden run down of the gear. Ear cameras, with GPS, a handheld GPS Cameras, walkie talkies, and a drone camera. No simple map and compass on this trip. No just wandering into the forest and getting lost and throwing away the map. Since the technology is better there also has to be an upgrade in what the woods can do. Sure we are going to get the expected stick figures and rock cairns, and loud noises in the night we also get a forest that creates time shifts and magically nullifies the ability of GPS to work properly. Not only is the forest upgraded but we get a couple characters who are outside the group in Talia and Lane. The story line for them are a nice counter to the supportive groups the four friends are. Without giving anything away let's say the addition of the couple adds a element of uncertainty for the rest of the group. Finally the upping of the ante in the ending where we do get the main thing missing from the first film makes this so much more superior. Outside of the in story improvements I also enjoyed the improved camera quality of the film. I am a person who feels the found footage film is a bit played out. In particular I feel the purposeful making a shot look shitty so it can be a security camera or whatever is just intolerable in today's age of digital imagery. I am still paying the same price for a ticket so I want the film to look good. This film I think shot in 35mm looks good all the time and is appreciated. I also appreciated the use of not overly popular actors who were all competent but not so recognizable that it was distracting.
Things in the woods go as you would expect in a Blair Witch film and it is not long before people are hearing noises and losing each other and finding stick figures. Time is lost and the way out can't be found. The modern technology is suddenly useless with the GPS on the fritz and the drone just as frustrating for the users as it was for the audience. It is used to help in the demise if a character but also we feel the characters frustration that the new toy is not helping. Such is the way with new technology but why have the drone and all the cameras if they are not going to be used in an interesting way to drive the story forward? Literally the drone flew up a couple times but showed nothing that would do anything for the group. When lost it played a small part but other than that the cool factor was all that it was for. So those things all hit the right notes. With an injured friend James, Lisa and the rest are stuck only heading further into trouble with little hope of getting out. At first I was a bit annoyed with the jump scares where a loud noise was used to make the audience jump. Since it was also what was scaring the characters though I just had to let that prejudice slide and just understand we are all in it together. The conflict in the group was a little obvious of a setup with both Talia and Lane being obvious Blair Witch conspiracy theorists. The juxtaposition of having Peter countering the obvious craziness was some good writing. The classic rain storm at the climax is always so wonderful tension builder. I remember the first time I noticed the technique when watching 12 Angry Men and thought how ingenious it was. Most of all in this film we get the villain and the mythology of the Blair Witch goes to the next level. It is so wonderfully done that the stunted ending of the first film is replaced with an ending that makes a lot more sense, is more intense and pays homage to the original while also improving it.
This is a film you should go see in the theater. Even if you did not like The Blair Witch Project you will probably like the sequel. It is not the best movie or the scariest but it at least takes the Blair Witch story and does it better than the original. It may be though that too much time has gone by since the first film and maybe audiences are not in the same place at the end of the found footage era than where they were at the beginning. Still get out there and see horror at the movies. As I have done so far this year; I am doing as an experiment my Twitter
is dedicated to following and being followed by
people in and behind the scenes. Then I am also hoping some of them
follow me back. (Not really expecting that though) It really is an experiment and where I love the
community it is a way to keep track of what is going on by the people
involved in it. I am now following over 210 people while the
followers is only 34 so as you can see people in the biz do not follow
just anyone back. :) (Note: Boy do I need an editor when I am rushing new movie reviews out. There were so many mistakes in this but all fixed now I hope.)