The original 1999 The Blair Witch Project remains a seminal film in the annals of the horror genre. While it may not have been the first found footage horror it utilised a fledgling internet to create a viral marketing campaign so effective it went on to become one of the most profitable films of all time.
Since then the found-footage genre has all but been and gone thanks to countless Paranormal Activities making it feel tired. Clearly desperate to conjure a sense of mystery as per the original film 2016’s Blair Witch shot under the name The Woods, only revealing its true Blair identity upon release of the film’s first trailer. So, if you were to go down to The Woods today would this Blair Witch give you a big surprise?
The short answer is, ‘no’. Because this Blair Witch is so desperate to cash-in and pay homage to the original it treads exactly the same path. The plot sees James (James Allen McCune) as the younger brother of the first film’s Heather. Teaming up with documentary filmmaker Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) they venture into the forest to try and ascertain what befell Heather and her crew. Along the way they pick up Blair Witch aficionados Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) not to mention a host of creepy goings on and a malevolent force hellbent on keeping them in the woods.
A modern update to The Blair Witch should offer something different. In the hands of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett it should have been as inventive as the original. After all these were the filmmakers behind the brilliant You’re Next and the John Carpenter-esque excellence that was The Guest. They know how to take tried and tested genres and inject new life into them.
The issue here is the only thing that seems to have changed from the first film is that cameras, and the technology that comes with them, has been updated. So instead of the atmospheric grain of the film stock of the first film we’re given digital pixels to contend with, oh and a shoehorned drone that serves as much purpose as product placement will allow.
It’s unclear if the characters have seen the original film’s footage, they make reference to “Heather’s footage” but if they’ve seen it and Heather has been missing for so many years why do they doubt the existence of something evil lurking in the woods? It’s almost as if there was a lack of thought into the character motivation and therefore disbelief was the easiest route to go down.
That being said there are some solid scares, the viewer forced to continually search the edge of frame for what may or may not be lurking there. But the film’s biggest flaw is it never cashes in its chips. The ending builds to a crescendo that rather than going out with a bang whimpers off into the night leaving you feeling like a hollowed out tree filled with the remains of a stale camping trip.
The biggest disappointment of Blair Witch remains the fact it was conjured by two proven filmmakers whose reputation promised much more. Their obvious reverence for The Blair Witch Project seems to be their undoing.