WARNING: LIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW
Unfortunately, those were the words going through my mind as the credits rolled after Blair Witch. A kind of concurring sigh of relief and venting of frustration, “It’s fine” is the perfect phrase to use when describing the new film from the terrifically creative duo of genre filmmakers, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett.
Would the world be a better place without a third Blair Witchmovie? Should’ve Wingard and Barrett even taken the risk of involving themselves with such popular, pre-established lore? Would horror cinema be in a better place if this movie had actually been an original film called The Woods? These are quesitons that certainly have value, but are, in theory, unnecessary and utterly futile.
The facts are, Wingard and Barrett did take on this project, we will never see The Woods , and the world is still spinning, people are dying, and people are, for some strange reason, still choosing to bring life into it.
So, facts gathered, let’s talk about Blair Witch .
First things first: I love The Blair Witch Project . Of course, if you’re viewing it for the first time in 2016, it probably will not scare you, and that’s okay. You don’t have to watch a movie and say it scared you on account of reviews saying it’s “one of the scariest movies ever made.” But it is, for my money, one of the scariest movies ever made.
But it isn’t a typical, jump-scare a minute style of scary. After rewatching it tonight, I was thrilled to remember that there isn’t a single jump scare; for a film made on such a low budget, that is quite shocking and revolutionary.
So, the question is, what makes the original film so scary?
Well, quite simply, everything .
The Blair Witch Project would not be as scary as it is if it released today. It would not be as scary as it is if it had been filmed with a better budget and notable filmmakers. It would not be as scary if it had actually shown the witch and had multiple jump-scares to jolt us out of our seats.
How do I know? Because I’ve seen Blair Witch .
Now it’s important to note that Wingard’s sequel is no way a bad film. I have seen some terrible horror movies in my lifetime (and many in the past few years alone) and I can say that out of the plethora of found-footage, Paranormal Activity ripoffs (which was, in a way, a rip-off of The Blair Witch Project ), Blair Witch is actually quite good. The characters have lots of cameras (a drone even! Look how modern we are!) and the reason for them going into the woods in the first place is… fine, I guess? I’m more into the first film’s plot of going into the woods to find the witch against a brother who wants to find his sister who may or may not even be alive after maybe encountering a witch and getting the footage on fucking tape.
Still, it’s okay, and it creates a reason for the found-footage format, even if a Blair Witch movie wouldn’t be a Blair Witchmovie without being handheld.
So, where does Blair Witch go wrong? It’s kind of hard to criticize a film for this (especially a film with such interesting lore) after praising a movie like The Force Awakens , but Barrett’s script really does follow the original film beat-for-beat, and that really isn’t an exaggeration. Everything about the formula of this film is exactly like the formula of the first film, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can’t help but feel a little tiring, a little boring, and a little… predictable.
And I don’t think it would be fair to argue, “Well, all horror movies nowadays are predictable!” While this is kinda sorta a decent argument, it doesn’t hold up. Many horror movies go in interesting directions that sometimes take me completely off-guard (see the twist in Don’t Breathe ). But whatever, I’m not going to harp on Barrett’s script for being “too predictable” because in this case, the formula, while repetitive and boring, leads to one hell of a finale.
The final scene in The Blair Witch Project is one of the most iconic, memorable, and terrifying finales in all of horror cinema. And so when Blair Witch decides to up the ante and give us that scene plus more than a few extra minutes, I was so on board. This finale is the scariest sequence in any movie this year, even scarier than anything in The Witch or Don’t Breathe , two superior horror films but lacking in the terrifying third act category.
Up until then, I was only really captivated by one key element, that being the witch’s use of distorting the space-time continuum, something that makes complete sense when watching the first film and seeing the group walk for hours, only to wind up where they started. Here, we get that and then some, with characters splitting up for a few hours and rejoining, one having been gone for hours and the other being gone for days, hungry and sleepless. Characters set alarms for the morning and when the alarm goes off, the sun isn’t up.
It’s kind of ingenious really, and that’s one thing this sequel needed to do in order to have a reason to exist: add to the original. If you’re going to follow the original in every aspect, at least give us something to work with. Give us information that will intrigue us and let us better enjoy the original. And Barrett has done that.
Still, a thought that continuously crossed my mind is that this story, the Blair Witch legend, just isn’t as scary now as it was. By that, I don’t mean that when I walk in the woods I don’t think about the Blair Witch, because I do. That movie haunts me to this day. But, seeing Blair Witch , I realized just how scarier it waswithout fancy new HD cameras and a bigger budget. Wingard’s film, while ambitious and entertaining enough, just doesn’t capture what made the first film so scary. It wasn’t the witch. It was the suspense felt at the thought of the witch.
Still, I’m giving it a positive review. I have seen some really shitty found-footage movies, and I just can’t in good conscience give this movie a negative review when there are plenty of worse choices out there that some critics praise in other circles.
Should Wingard have been smarter and decided to not have people jump at the camera, causing an unnecessary and suspense-relieving jump-scare? Fuck yes.
Would this have been better enjoyed as a stand alone original film? Maybe. But even then, people would bitch about how similar it is to The Blair Witch Project and call it a ripoff. You really can’t please anyone in this world, but I’m gonna go easy on this one. It’s leagues better than Book of Shadows and should be treated as a proper Blair Witch sequel that honors the lore, pleases fans, and even scares from time to time.