Movie Review: ‘Blair Witch’ terrifies with few special effects
The most surprising revelation to emerge in the wake of director Adam Wingard’s “Blair Witch Project” remake, is that many people liked the original movie and described it in such glowing terms as a “masterpiece” and a “modern classic.” Unless they’re describing “The Blair Witch Project’s” savvy marketing campaign, they’re really overselling the 1999 original.
Overlooking, its much stronger inspiration, Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 opus “Cannibal Holocaust,” “The Blair Witch Project” initiated the found footage genre in that it was the first horror movie to give us nothing for 83 minutes and then suddenly give us the vague promise of something creepy-ish somewhere within the final minute of screen time. It was also the first horror movie to wrongly assume the best way to build suspense is to have repulsive idiots bicker non-stop in a secluded location. To be fair, “The Blair Witch Project” was a triumph of guerrilla filmmaking and its financial success hinted at the promotional possibilities of the internet. But as a horror movie “The Blair Witch Project” was inert and inconsequential. Wingard’s “Blair Witch” is something else entirely.
Similar to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” in the sense that it isn’t a reboot or a sequel as much as it is a bigger budgeted remake, “Blair Witch” revolves around James (James Allen McCune) the brother of Heather Donahue – the doomed documentarian from the first film. After watching a Youtube video in which James’ sister appears to be alive and scared in a dilapidated shack within the Black Hills Forest, James along with his associates (film student Callie Hernandez as well as close friends Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) take a trip to Burkittsville, Maryland in order to track her down. What they find isn’t that different or far removed from the original movie.
Wingard and his frequent collaborator Simon Barrett are solid if not slightly overrated filmmakers. Too often their films feign toward genre subversion without fully committing to their more inventive ideas.
Likewise, Wingard and Barrett fall into the same trap with “Blair Witch” by taking the tired conventions of the found footage genre and leaving them mostly unchanged (efforts are made to play around with the film’s timeline but like the neurotics in “You’re Next” the concept is barely more than a momentary distraction). As in “The Blair Witch Project,” “Blair Witch” mostly concerns unlikable characters bickering as they get lost in the woods. It’s something we’ve all seen many times. However, Wingard and Barrett elevate these tropes with a few novel touches. Shot on state of the art equipment like ear-piece cameras and a drone that almost instantly malfunctions, “Blair Witch” is peppered with anguished, sweetened shrieks and almost subliminal glimpses of static specters that could possibly be due to electronic interference or something otherworldly.
“Blair Witch” deserves credit for taking a tired concept like the jump scare and toying around with it until it’s both knowingly ridiculous and ridiculously effective. Additionally, “Blair Witch’s” third act outmatches its predecessor with a suspenseful and terrifyingly sustained sequence that finds one of its protagonists navigating through the blind corners and claustrophobic tunnels of an abandoned farmhouse.
Granted, there’s not much new to be found in “Blair Witch” and compared to Wingard and Barrett’s other films, this remake is slight. But even still, “Blair Witch” works more than it doesn’t and, even though it will smack of blasphemy to some, proves to be an improvement over its overrated inspiration. In short, it’s better than its already infamous reputation may have implied.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid
Director: Adam Wingard
Weekender Rating: W
Length: 89 minutes