WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS.
Seventeen years after James’ sister’s disappearance a team comprised of friends and filmmakers goes on an expedition in search Heather in the Black Hills Forest, just outside of Burkittsville, Maryland creating a film now titled Blair Witch.
The Blair Witch Project was a film that was the first of its kind, shot and edited as if it was real footage found in the woods of the Black Hills Forest. This ‘found-footage’ tell the story of three filmmakers who became victims to the town's ghostly legend of the Blair Witch. For years after this film was released in 1999, people believed that the events depicted in this film were true, and people from all over the world fled to the scenes of the crime to find any evidence. Of course, they found nothing; the tale was fiction and the subjects were actors. This film made history in the same sense that the infamous War of the Worlds radio drama broadcast did -- people tuned in (or in this case, watched) and thought it to be real, simply because it believably claimed to be. Still to this day, this movie continues to inspire hundreds of filmmakers to attempt to make their own found-footage films in hopes to capture the same type of fear and success, but none have made quite the same impact that The Blair Witch Project had. Also, unfortunately, due to the dawn of the internet age, it makes it all too easy to access information and easily debunk anything that claims to be true or not.
When they announced that The Blair Witch Project was getting a direct sequel (and kudos to them for keeping the secret for so damn long) I am not going to lie, I was a bit wary. The Blair Witch Project is one of my all-time favourite horror movies, and one of the few that still has the ability to scare me to this day. The reason for this is that for years -- due to naiveté and lack of knowledge on the subject matter -- I legitimately thought it was real. Keep in mind, I was only nine years-old when it was released and I first watched it. If the movie told me it was real, why would I doubt that it’s not? Since then, I have grown quite a bit and fully realize that the Blair Witch does not exist and the people in this film were actors. Already off the bat I wasn’t sure how effective Blair Witch would be for me.
When the film began, I could already tell that they were trying to get the characters to feel real like they did in the original, and for you to be charmed by their silliness and their emotion towards the subject matter. Like -- dude lost his sister, hundred of thousands of people have seen these tapes you’re supposed to feel bad for the guy. For me, I just didn’t feel that instant connection to these actors in the way I did to Mike, Josh and Heather. I think that’s because they pulled a classic common move and mistake with found-footage movies: they grabbed a group of young, beautiful people that were all very fit and attractive. They cast people who obviously looked like actors. They didn’t feel like real people that you would just randomly encounter while walking down the street. That being said, that’s really my only complaint about the casting, as this feeling was short-lived. While still obviously aware that it’s not real, I was able to start to feel a slight bit more attached to these characters and their charm was finally starting to work on me.
As the film continues on, you also see familiar surroundings of what seems like the same or similar locations as the original film -- a nice little throwback to the big fans of the original. Of course, as you can see from the movie poster, they still have those weird stick dolls hanging from trees. (They still creep me out to this very day. I would never want to find anything like that while hiking through a forest.) I was thrilled that this movie wasn’t an exact play-by-play of the original. I was worried that they were going to follow the exact format that the original followed -- and they did, to an extent -- but not so much that it was shoved right in your face. They went off-beat quite a lot, and a lot of things happened that I did not expect.
Now is when I get into a few minor spoilers. I recommend that if you have not already watched this film, stop now and watch it first. If not, you’ve been warned.
In a town with history such as this one, of course there are going be obsessive weirdos who exploit the legend. That is exactly what two folks -- the MacGuffin of the movie -- did. Our crew meets up with a friendly alternative-goth couple who offer to show them around the forest and to the spot where Heather’s tapes were found, but during their time with the crew they use it to set up a hoax to try and ‘prove’ that the Blair Witch does exist. Now, this doesn’t last long before our crew figures things out and banishes them for causing too many problems on an expedition that is clearly very important to our lead character. This is where things start to get a bit more serious -- before this point it felt like a fun group adventure, but now that the thought of the Blair Witch existing is planted into their minds the fear starts to settle in… not only for our main characters, but also for the audience watching. I wasn’t sure where things were going to go or what was going to happen next at any moment during this film. That’s pretty hard to do with a typically formulaic genre like found-footage films.
For a while, once the fear began to really settle in, the filmmakers (the real ones, not the actors) started to become a bit too reliant on jump-scares. I counted two really big ones before I started to get a little frustrated and said to myself that if another damn jump-scare happens I’m tossing this movie in the trash alongside The Conjuring 2 (yeah, yeah, I can hear the crowd booing already.) (Editor’s note: BOOOOOO THAT MOVIE WAS GREAT.) Eventually the jump-scares settled down and weren’t nearly as prominent, and what kept me on the edge of my seat for the rest of the movie was the fear of what I was going to see… or more importantly, not see. Thankfully, this film did not ruin the mythology too much. They (for the most part, in which I will get into a bit later) followed the unspoken legend ground=rules that the first film had created. and we do not see too much of what the Blair Witch is -- just a few quick blurs. I was extremely worried that they were going to over-expose whatever she is or just straight-up show us. Well, thankfully they did not, so the mystery of whatever is out in those woods is still able to exist.
One thing that made The Blair Witch Project as amazing as it was was the amount of daytime screen-time. When a movie can make the audience as afraid during the day scenes as they are in the night scenes, you know that that is a damn good horror film. This film definitely lacked that, which made me feel that they were not confident in how scary this movie actually could be. This was a big problem for me.
Now comes my biggest issue with the film, and that is the fact that they tweaked the original mythology of the first film. The first nightfall after our crew cast out the crazies (which is the second overnight stay in the forest total) they show back up, suddenly all dirty and disheveled and saying they look just as they remember seeing them days ago. This is where you learn (or at least it is heavily implied) that supposedly after the second night, it will never become daytime again. Um, no. This was so incredibly unnecessary and the film could have been so much better without this random bit of information added in. Later still, we meet this guy yet again who says the same bullshit again (during the same night!), but this time he has a beard and longer hair, adding credence to the fact that he’s apparently not just delusional. If they had just ran into the couple and then continued on with the evening, the events that took place after this would have been so much better. Just because we don’t see past the second night in the original movie does not mean there was never going to be a third, or that it would eternally be night. That’s just a little bit too ridiculous for me. Fortunately enough, they don’t focus on this too heavily and the end of this film does make up for it.
The ending did leave me with more questions than answers, but I’m okay with that. I didn’t want anything big from the first film explained -- what made it so fun was that you didn’t know. You didn’t know quite what happened, or what got them, or whether they were for sure dead or alive, and I’m okay with this. Overall this film was an emotional rollercoaster, and it did keep me on the edge of my seat. I left the theatre pleased with my experience and thankful that viewing this did not change my opinion on the first film. Sadly, they did feel the need to retcon some of the in-universe mythology, and did fall into typical found-footage money traps like talent agency actors and professional horror-movie filming and editing, just a touch shakier.
While enjoyable -- and definitely worth checking out in theatres -- Blair Witch was not comparable, and just could not live up to its predecessor The Blair Witch Project.