REVIEW: ‘Blair Witch’ uses updated tech, same tired gimmick

Blair Witch, the latest follow-up to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, returns to the original film’s style and concept so much that it’s more remake than sequel.

Yes, the tech in the film is updated, with GoPro cameras, GPS, and drones integrated into the story’s mechanics. But those additions simply make it easier for the filmmakers to plausibly pass off what plays out on screen as “found footage.”

That same tired gimmick, innovative and immersive sixteen years ago, fuels this would-be scream fest in the woods. The result is a film that delivers very few actual scares and grows tiresome very, very quickly.

What’s it about?

Blair Witch follows another group of twenty-somethings into the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, this time in search of the group that went missing in the first film. James (James Allen McCune), who was four years old when his sister Heather disappeared in those woods, holds on to hope that she’s still out there.

Along for the search are James’s friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reed). A student film maker, Lisa plans to shoot the trip as a documentary focused on James finding emotional closure.

The group starts their investigation by meeting with a pair of locals familiar with the woods and their haunting legend. Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) offer to act as guides for James and company, spurred by their own fascination with the Blair Witch legend.

Unlike Heather’s group years before, this group plans ahead for the possibility of getting lost. They bring two-way radios, GPS, and even a remote-controlled drone to fly above the trees for aerial perspectives.

But once the group ventures further into the woods, of course, all that planning proves to be for naught. The mysterious cairns and humanoid stick figures begin appearing around their camp, the nights seem to get longer, and then people start disappearing.

Sound familiar? It should.

Blair Witch final one-sheet

Recreating the original

Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) makes a supreme effort to recapture the sights, sounds, and feel of the original film. Teaming with the film’s original directors and producers, he accomplishes his goal too well. Blair Witch feels less like a return and more like a retread of where the first film went before.

There’s also a clear effort in the production to add more conventional visual elements of horror to the proceedings. There’s some gore here, some flashes of monsters in the dark, all to provide different kinds of jumps and scares.

But those elements feel shoehorned into the film. In fact, there are a number of plot and visual elements that end up feeling extraneous in Blair Witch, just because by the end of the film they appear to be left without deliberate purpose.

It’s one thing to leave unresolved questions in a story in order to spark imagination and debate after the experience. That’s what the original did all those years ago for those who were taken in by the film.

But here, all the unresolved plot threads just feel sloppy and gratuitous. If there’s any debate sparked by Blair Witch, it’s more likely to be started with questions like “What the hell was the point of that?” and “Did we really need another one?”

Acting? Well, sorta …

As for performances to be found in Blair Witch, credit must always go to trained performers trying to maintain the conceit that they’re not trained performers when acting right into the camera lens. It’s a challenge that seems to always get discounted, and the ensemble more or less meets that challenge here.

That said, the actors here just aren’t given very much to work with in terms of motivation. The barest of backstories are provided for each of the characters. There’s just enough to give context to their particular reactions once the scares start happening.

With so little to invest audiences into their plight, all their screaming and running about in the woods just becomes tiresome. We get it, guys — you’re desperate to get out.

Midway through the film’s 89-minute running time, audiences will likely be just as desperate to get out, too.

Worth seeing?

It should go without saying that if you have no taste for found footage-style films, steer clear of Blair Witch. And of course, if you didn’t like the original all those years ago, you’ll like this one even less.

However, those who were scared by the first film may be left wanting after this one, as well. It’s just too much like its predecessor, so even if you were taken in the first time around, it’s unlikely you will be again.

Blair Witch

Starring James Allen McCune, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reed, Callie Hernandez, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry. Directed by Adam Wingard.
Running Time: 89 minutes
Rated R for language, terror and some disturbing images.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.