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Blair Witch doles out a handful of effective scares, but aside from a few new twists, it mainly offers a belated rehash of the original -- and far more memorable -- first film.
Blair Witch doles out a handful of effective scares, but aside from a few new twists, it mainly offers a belated rehash of the original -- and far more memorable -- first film.
All Critics (203)
| Top Critics (34)
| Fresh (74)
| Rotten (129)
Blair Witch follows the original's beats so precisely that at times it seems the film is more eager to elicit memories of its predecessor than to stand on its own at all.
Barrett and Wingard slavishly reprise the beats of the original movie and suffer gravely by comparison.
Emerges as satisfying in its own right and pretty damn scary.
Belated "official" sequel to 1999 hit updates technology but repeats the original's shocks - only much louder and lamer
Perhaps for someone who never saw The Blair Witch Project, this might represent an adequate scary movie.
Blair Witch nods to the first film but never rediscovers its power.
Ultimately Blair Witch doesn't work because it feels too much like the same film from 17 years ago and not a film that can separate and stand on its own.
Structurally redundant as it travels down the familiar wooden path...it is too bad that he (Wingard) could not emphasize his cinematic appreciation more soundly in this woefully flaccid, forest-bound frightener.
It is without a doubt one of the bleakest, most depressing American genre films of all time.
Just as making Blair Witch is a lateral move in Wingard's career, Blair Witch as a film is little more than a step sideways from the original picture which so terrified audiences in 1999.
A cover set of The Blair Witch's Greatest Hits: Unreliable map, time-displacement, scary noises, stickmen, rockpiles, face in the camera, spooky house, stand in the corner, was-that-or-wasn't-that-a-witch, goodnight Cleveland there will be no encore.
Blair Witch is still a very competent horror film and Wingard still brings the requisite scares with energy and ferocity. Those who expect the minimalist approach of The Blair Witch Project will be disappointed...
The direct sequel to the horror hit from the late 90s (not counting that odd quasi-part-2) follows the original's footsteps very closely. For a while that works, and again there are some decent scares thanks to sound effects. But then you feel things get more and more repetitive and you find yourself caring less and less about the characters. There are a few new ideas once we get to the house (again, for the finale) but it's dragged out way too long and ultimately pretty predictable, since all found footage movies end the same way. The movie also makes a big mistake the original didn't make: They show the monster.
Even if the use of the camera is a lot more organic and natural than in the first movie (and in so many other found footage films), this unoriginal rehash feels unnecessary and is not only a waste of time thanks to its effective, anguishing third act (kudos to the production design).
When it comes to making money, studios will try to get their hands on any property that has been beneficial in the past. From horror, to westerns, to action films, there really is no limit in the realm of bringing back tired premises from the past. In some rare instances when films are brought back for a new audience, but most of the time they are relying solely on the fact that they have a beloved premise to share with a new audience. Sadly, I think the new Blair Witch falls directly into that category. With new technology and having many ideas to borrow from in a genre that had been created by this franchise in the first place, you'd think it would be nothing but clever scares and creepy sounds, done masterfully. Here is why Blair Witch (aside from a couple commendable moments) is a pretty bad film in retrospect.
Back in 1999 when the original film was released for horror junkies across the world, the gimmick of found footage that we know today was not a gimmick back then. Love it or hate it at the time, it felt kind of innovative. Having kids running around in the woods, appearing to be attacked by this myth known as the blair witch was pretty terrifying, seeming like it was actual footage. Sadly, that flare is completely left behind here as the filmmakers use every type of new technology, from headset cameras to drones, in order to make it feel a little more cinematic. What it does in actuality is take away the realism set by the original. Never once did I find myself jumping out of my seat, which is disappointing, given the fact that there was a dumb jump scare every few minutes, trying so hard to terrify its audience. That being said, although the film does retread many steps, it does try to be a little more fluent with its story.
For those of you who do not wish to have anything spoiled, please skip to the next paragraph.
Following the brother of Heather (from the original film) as he decides to venture out into the woods to look for her, he brings along a group of documentary filmmakers to record their findings. Camping out, getting lost, seeing strange markings, and ending up at the same house in the final act, this film almost feels like a retelling of the original, while also continuing the lore. While I appreciated them trying to continue the story rather than remaking it, I felt myself being bored rather than scared. That being said, once they reach their destination, it is much more fleshed out and you are actually able to get glimpses at things, unlike the original film. For that reason, I give a few props to this otherwise pointless film. I got a few goosebumps in the final moments, but it definitely was not worth sitting through 90 minutes to get to that point.
Relying far too much on jump scares to keep its audience engaged in its story was a huge mistake. Every few minutes characters seemed to get themselves lost, only to then storm into the frame out of nowhere to talk to the camera. This gimmick was used far too many times and I found myself eventually rolling my eyes at it. In the original film they were able to use natural sounds of the woods and when a character was far away from the camera you could hardly hear what they were saying, which made it so much more realistic. This time around, you can clearly see the strings. It is clear that every character is either mic'd or ended up in the ADR room after shooting wrapped. Every sound effect is clear as day and every character is as clear as a Hollywood blockbuster. These films were made to feel realistic, and if that was the intention of this film, it has missed the mark completely.
While I am not someone who loves the original film, I do admire it. I didn't have many expectations going into this film, but I did hope for the best. Although I do not believe the first film holds up today, it is still an admirable attempt at a new genre. In my opinion, this film tries very hard to continue the story, but ultimately falls short in almost every way. With a "Hollywood" feel and sound effects that just do not seem realistic, it feels much more of a film than an experiment, which is what made this franchise special to begin with. In the end, I was not scared, the film did nothing to further the story, and even though it expands in the final act, it does not make the 90 minute running time worth it. Therefore, I cannot recommend this film, even to fans of the first. That being said, I think you can easily watch the first 10 minutes and then skip to the third act. You will still receive the same impact. Blair Witch tries very hard, but undeniably fails.
As is mandatory with all reviews, let us acknowledge the tremendous impact of the original Blair Witch Project, a full-borne cultural event that tapped into the zeitgeist. It was a rare indie movie that curated a must-see reputation and became a blockbuster. The found footage format was highly influential afterwards as were its low-fi thrills, community interactivity, viral marketing, and experimental construction. I remember having heated arguments with people about whether the movie was indeed real or a work of fiction. I pointed to the TV once and said, "Look, the actors are promoting it on MTV." Naturally imitators followed suit and the studio looked to eagerly turn a curiosity into a franchise. 2000's hasty sequel Book of Shadows was quickly rejected and just as quickly the Blair Witch phenomenon had slipped away. It remained dead until this summer. Director Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) and frequent screenwriting partner Simon Barrett had recently made a horror movie called The Woods, but at 2016's Comicon the secrecy was finally dropped. It was a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, filmed in secret J.J. Abrams-style. It was a stunt that worked, and once again there was life in this franchise. This will only last until people see the new Blair Witch, a monotonous, confused jump-scare haven that's too indebted to the original and discards anything interesting it stumbles onto.
Sixteen years after three backpackers went missing, footage has been posted that possibly shows one of these backpackers, Heather, still alive. James (James Allen McCune) is now an adult male and determined to find out if his sister is alive. Lisa (Callie Hernadez), a film student and maybe James girlfriend, tags along to record James' hunt for the truth into her graduate thesis. Their friends (Corbin Reid, Brandan Scott) come along for the adventure into the woods, as well as a conspiracy couple (Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry) responsible for posting that new footage. The conspiracy couple leads them into the woods and it isn't long before people get lost, tempers get heated, and strange disturbing noises materialize from the never-ending night.
Much can be forgiven if a scary movie delivers the spine-tingling goods, and standing in the shadow of one of the biggest horror hits of all time is no easy proposition. It's too bad then that Wingard's Blair Witch is far more tedious than terrifying. I didn't fall under the spell of the 1999 original but I could appreciate its slow-burn efforts and execution, which relied upon a lot of unsettling dread left to audience imagination. With the 2016 reboot, the filmmakers have upped the ante but don't have patience. There are over six different jump scares, each punctuated by a loud, often shrill scream. At one point there are three in a row in a succession of mere minutes, enough so that a character provides a meta dose of commentary by saying in exasperation, "Why do people keep doing that?" Calling attention to the annoying trait doesn't make it better. The sound design is also, in a word, amplified. It sounds like Bigfoot or a dinosaur is tearing through the woods and wrecking havoc. It was enough that I hoped the movie would just reveal the Blair Witch never existed and instead it was some other sizeable monster of legend. I'll give Wingard credit for the found footage cinematography not being self-consciously overdone. The characters have an incredible stash of cameras, from GoPros to flying drone cameras, which makes the editing less choppy and the movie easier to watch.
There are exactly two scenes that unnerved me. One is the sheer numbers of an expected item upon waking up, the immense quantity and variation in size providing an eerie sight as it fills the screen. The other is a late sequence that involves squeezing in a tight space, which allows Wingard to employ some nice claustrophobic tension. Short of these two moments, and they are mere moments, the movie was boring me so profoundly that I considered just leaving, and I've never walked out on a movie before. It felt like it was going nowhere fast with characters I didn't care about and without any relevant suspense. The found footage filming elements are even used to enhance the jump scares with sudden visual and sound glitches amplifying the tired attempts to constantly startle its audience. This is a movie more concerned with startling its audience than scaring it.
When the movie does start to tantalize your interest, it's like a mirage that soon vanishes and you're once again left in your dire predicament. Getting lost in the woods is not interesting minus interesting aspects. However, finding out that time is operating at a different level, now that's interesting. The characters set their alarms for seven A.M. but it's still dark out. The possibility of the Blair Witch manipulating time to trap hikers was the first moment in this entire movie that made me sit up in my chair. It took the movie in a different direction that demanded my attention, and it opened up the possibilities of what had been a rather lifeless enterprise up that point. Show me this movie. Alas, it's an aspect that is quickly shoved aside and largely forgotten even with the timeline of events regarding the footage. There's a scene where the stick figures directly communicate a powerful connective relationship, and yet this too is never touched upon again. There's a new threat introduced that takes the movie in a body horror direction and raises questions about whether the woods themselves can become alive. It's another intriguing moment that culminates in what promises to be a memorable gross-out image, and instead it too peters out and then unwisely abandons the body horror angle. It's almost like the movie is so single-minded in its path that it ignores the intriguing and preferable detours.
Wingard and Barrett are trying to expand the Blair Witch mythology but their reboot operates on the assumption that there is even a base to work upon and that its audience is familiar with heretofore unspoken rules that appear arbitrarily and randomly. This reboot operates in a world that acknowledges the release of the first Blair Witch movie, yet nobody seems to be any different from this. Obviously James is different having to lie with the legacy of the movie, but why venture out into the woods on a whim of hope to find his long-lost sister who vanished 16 years ago? Does he think she's just been living off squirrels and twigs in the ensuing time? Why doesn't James try and question who edited the footage from his sister into a narrative? Why doesn't he try suing the film production for profiting off his family pain? Why hasn't Burkitsville, Maryland become a counter-culture tourist destination from taking ownership over its supernatural legend, much like Salem or Roswell? The town should be swamped with adventurous backpackers who want to live the experience. The much maligned Book of Shadows did far more to discuss the reality of the Blair Witch phenomenon and the tenuous hold on reality that the Internet age was ushering in. Wingard's version eschews this world-building context for narrative immediacy. James wants to find his sister, he gets a clue that she might be out in those woods still, so they all go into the woods. Once the conspiracy theory couple insert themselves onto the trip it seems odd that we've ignored the larger context of the legend, instead rehashing how the Blair Witch died.
As things begin to fall apart in the second half, the events start to feel arbitrary and poorly defined. There's a sequence during the climax that I'll try my best to describe with some discretion but be warned, folks (spoilers): the remaining characters eventually find that same shack in the middle of the woods, though the exact number of floors seems unclear. The witch looks to finally confront our characters, though why she/it waited until this moment is also unclear since she/it seems to be entirely overpowering. That's when a character declares, with no prior guesswork to arrive at this conclusion, that they have to stand in corners and as long as they don't turn around and look they will survive. And this works. It's not explained why this Raiders of the Lost Ark closed-eyes routine is somehow the secret to supernatural survival (ignorance is bliss?). When the character unleashes this tidbit it's treated like the audience knows the rules of the Blair Witch universe, and we sure don't. At no point has a larger system been established, so when characters start spouting rules it feels like the movie is making it up as it goes. This don't-look-back trick is played out almost to a comical effect, which culminates in the rising question of whether a character is going to backwards walk out of the whole stupid forest. The muddled world building (time dilation, voodoo sticks, tree monsters?) makes it feel like the doomed characters are ultimately trapped in a half-finished screenplay.
I was honestly expecting more from Wingard and Barrett after their previous genre collaborations. These guys know the underpinnings of enjoyable genre filmmaking and how and when t upend the conventions and expectations, zigging when others would zag. I felt these two would be able to take a studio gig like Blair Witch and find something new, something interesting, and certainly something scary with the property. I regret to say that this Blair Witch might be new but it sure fails to be interesting or scary. The characters are meaningless and interchangeable and boring. Their decisions are often illogical and stupid. The scares are stacked too high in favor of cheap jump scares, and the movie lacks the patience to develop its tension and horror. It can't even properly establish rules for the audience to follow. It's like the filmmakers are being upfront with their lack of faith in their final product. I think the key missing ingredient is, surprisingly, humor. Both You're Next and The Guest balance along a delicate tonal line that can veer into macabre comedy any moment to lighten or heighten the tension. There are no (intentional) laughs to be had with this retread into the woods. I think the newest Blair Witch has done the unthinkable: it's redeemed Book of Shadows.
Nate's Grade: C-
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