Blair Witch is not disappointing in the sense that I had lofty expectations for it. I had none. However, after watching the movie, it’s extremely disappointing in the sense that it’s a squandered opportunity. Don’t be fooled by the suggestion (and ridiculous plot starter) that it’s a sequel to The Blair Witch Project (1999). I consider it a reboot that’s practically a remake. Except for new characters, and more of them, there’s nothing new.
The first movie was a revolutionary film. It wasn’t the first to use found footage, although The Blair Witch Project was the first found footage film to hit the goldmine. It was revolutionary because of the marketing campaign that had audiences believe the footage was real. Love it or hate it, it was still a landmark film. After 17 years, and with the talent involved, I had hoped Blair Witch would somehow recreate the magic in a fresh and exciting way.
They almost did it with the marketing part of it. It was revealed at San Diego Comic Con that writer Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s new movie, The Woods, was really a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project, wisely ignoring the real first sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Although there was fan speculation beforehand, for most people this was a brilliantly executed surprise. It turns out it’s the only surprise we’re going to get out of Blair Witch.
I know lightning supposedly doesn’t strike twice, but with the creative force behind You’re Next and The Guest, films that did new and exciting things with familiar genres, you’d think… no, you’d hope… that they’d do the same here. Why did they settle for the exact same thing? There’s more technology now; the kids who get lost in the woods have more equipment. But this new equipment doesn’t do anything different than the video cameras from 1999.
This is, in itself, a squandered opportunity. The characters can now wear tiny cameras in their ears and they can send a drone into the air for a bird’s eye view. But they don’t do anything clever with the technology. All it allows is more “shaky-cam” shots from more angles which make it even more difficult to figure out what the heck is happening. Found footage shaky-cam has never bothered me before. I couldn’t stand it here.
All right, all right… let’s stop comparing the two movies. Had The Blair Witch Project never existed, would I like Blair Witch? No. I am the first person to suspend disbelief over silly plot elements so that I can enjoy a movie. Here, though, I just could not get past the basic set-up. It sounds OK… James (James Allen McCune) enters the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, to search for his sister, Heather, who went missing after the events of the first movie.
However, this defies logic to me for two reasons. First, in movie time, I believe Blair Witch stated it had been either seven or ten years since Heather disappeared. How could anyone think she might still be alive? At best, I would think you’d hope to find her remains. Second, James and his friends have seen the footage from the first movie. Sure, they spot Heather in a reflection, but the footage ends (from her POV) with her being knocked down and dragged away.
The movie tries to later compensate for this by having James repeatedly say, “I really thought we’d find her” or “I really thought she’d be alive.” Why? Why in the world would you have thought that? His companions on his trip into the woods are skeptical about going, but not out of fear from the evidence they’ve already seen. Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) want to support their friend who’s never accepted the loss of his sister.
Two things cause them to investigate at this particular time. Lisa is making a documentary about James and his struggle (which has nothing to do with the woods or the Blair Witch) and a mysterious internet personality claims to have recently found one of Heather’s tapes in the woods. This person turns out to be Lane (Wes Robinson) who, with his girl Talia (Valorie Curry), wants to join them on their expedition.
One thing I actually like about Blair Witch is the humor among these characters. Peter is a black man and Lane is a redneck with the Confederate flag decorating the wall of his home. Their relationship generates humor and gives the movie some laughs until the situation expectedly goes bad. Lane and Talia have ulterior motives. This isn’t a surprise, but these motives are never explained. They are just two more characters who are expendable.
I disliked the first 2/3 of the movie, basically anything to do with the woods. Too many jump scares and no real suspense or thrills. However, I liked a little better when the house where Heather was last “seen” is discovered. More time is spent in it than in The Blair Witch Project and, better lit, it’s a little easier to tell what’s happening. Only a little, though; I still couldn’t tell what footage was coming from what camera and who was who, or what was what.
As much as I disliked it, I can’t really say Blair Witch is a “bad” movie. Maybe… maybe if you’re a youngster unfamiliar with its ancestry, you’d find it entertaining. I’m guessing though, that most of its audience will be made of fans excited for a sequel they’re not going to get. Since half the people who saw the original loathe it, the number of people who won’t see this one may outnumber the ones who will. I’m afraid its prospects are not good.