Blair Witch is so uninspired and lacking in originality, that for the first time in five years of being a film critic, I almost left a screening. This “film” (consider that term used extremely loosely) is yet another example of Hollywood regurgitating old idea after old idea and not doing a single thing to improve upon the final product. At least if you are going to rehash an old topic, find a way to freshen up the narrative.
The Blair Witch Project raked in $250 million during its initial run and blazed a trail for a new brand of “found footage” horror films. Blair Witch is destined to do far less than its predecessor because word will quickly spread that this film is EXACTLY like the first one except for little things like it’s not nearly as frightening as the first film and it’s nowhere near as groundbreaking.
For those who aren’t familiar with the franchise: according to legend, a witch haunts the Black Hills Forest in Maryland that is so scary that anyone dies when they gaze upon her. In the original, three film students ventured into the woods to see if the legend was actually true. None of them make it out of the forest alive and their bodies are never recovered. However, a grainy bit of footage was found that maps out the events of their untimely demise.
Fast-Forward to the present and we have another group of young aspiring filmmakers (sound familiar) not only venture in the woods to try and prove if this legend is real but perhaps find any survivors from the last crew that went in 1999. Because if they survived surely they’ve been living in the woods for 17 years. This time the young filmmakers feel like they’re better prepared than the last bunch because their cameras come with fancy earpieces and they have an aerial drone. So of course they venture into the very same woods in hopes of their luck somehow being much different than everyone else who’s trudged through that part of the woods and meet their untimely demise (eye roll).
Part of what made the original film so brilliant was the authenticity it conveyed both on screen and in its dialogue. None of the shots were “perfectly aligned” and the dialogue was entirely conversational, far from seeming scripted (they used a rough outline). The lack of perfection in each shot and the realistic discourse that the film students had only enhanced the levels of terror. We never got a shot at all of the witch in the original film, nor did we have any doubts about how scared Heather Donahue was; and audiences were scared as hell along with her.
In Blair Witch, director Adam Wingard demonstrates no understanding of why the original film was such a smash hit and takes the opposite approach. Instead of keeping the visual feel of the film authentic, he relies on perfectly aligned shots and refers to them as “found footage” shots. There is actually a scene where two of the characters ask to talk in private and they just so happen to do this within range of another camera that actually zooms in closer to catch the conversation (I wish I was making this up). Who is the person shooting these two having a private conversation? Can’t be anyone in the group because they are “allegedly” by themselves and this is “allegedly” supposed to be found footage. There is another scene where one of the female characters is trying to escape underground and manages to crawl through a dark tunnel and have just the perfect angle of her face. HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN?! Is the Blair Witch also the cinematographer?
Simon Barrett was brought in to help craft a screenplay and his “narrative” is part blatant rip-offs from the first film, part desecration of a brilliant film’s legacy. Barrett brings nothing fresh, but does regurgitate the same rough outline of what took place in the original film. He did attempt to add his stamp to the plot but it only made matters worse. For example, rather than keep the mystery alive of who might still be haunting those woods, he reveals to the audience just exactly who that monster might exactly be. What’s more, he even explains in the film why the witches victims stand in the corner.
Why? Why would you do this? Why would you take away the mystery of the film away from the audience. Part of the terror of The Blair Witch Project was the unknown and that is completely stripped away by these two men. Some questions are best left unanswered.
Blair Witch is the most blatant attempt by a studio to cash in on a film franchise in 2016. As a critic and, more importantly, as a fan of cinema, it sickens me that films like Blair Witch are given such a major push by the studios while other small films are dismissed. The only way to these disingenuous attempts to make films can be curtailed is if we avoid going to see them. Demand better and avoid going to see this film.