The original Blair Witch Project film came out in 1999 but contrary to what many believe it wasn’t the ‘first’ found-footage movie. It was, however, the first to push it into the mainstream. The first to show just how much money could be made from such basic budgets. The early rise of the found-footage sub-genre can be traced back to The Blair Witch Project & many haven’t forgiven it for that.
The Blair Witch Project can be rightly considered a classic, in that it changed horror significantly. It hasn’t aged well & on re-watching it becomes painfully obvious just how little actually happens throughout. What it does get right though is its subtle scares & well built tension that culminates in a final few minutes that terrify.
Many horror movies, particularly those within the found-footage territory have lost sight of the importance of subtly. The importance of building scares, not just throwing things at the screen to make you jump while simultaneously re-threading the same ground walked by a hundred movies before.
There is no originality left in cinematic horror, these movies are geared towards a casual audience that compare quality with the number of times the movie makes you jump. A lot of people are going to love Blair Witch, I hated it.
Any found-footage horror in 2016 deserves to be put under the microscope more than any other because it has the chance to learn from the mistakes made by the films that came before it. It has a chance to not fall into the same pitfalls that have plagued the sub-genre for years. It has a chance to be a new kind of found-footage, one that doesn’t try to give you motion sickness or worsen your eyesight as you squint into the darkness on screen.
Blair Witch takes all those potential lessons & simple wipes it’s ass with them. It doesn’t give a fuck what you think. You’re here for the nostalgia factor so here is the exact same film with less memorable characters, no tension & some of the worst jump scares I’ve seen in a long time.
There is no exploration of the lore, no added titbits for the viewer to mull over. It’s the same stories repeated in a less interesting way but with added arguments about the facts. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows had more advancement in plot then this. You’d almost believe that this was a remake if it wasn’t for the paper-thin storyline that gets this group into the woods.
James is the brother of Heather, the woman of the original who went missing in the woods around Burkittsville, He finds a video uploaded online that shows footage of the house at the end of the first movie & a reflection of a person in a mirror that he deduces may be his missing sister. How he gets to that conclusion I’ll never understand, particularly as she disappeared when he was just a toddler!
It’s utterly stupid as he is in his twenties now so would have almost no memory of her let alone remember what she looked like (the reflection in the mirror is so unclear it could be anyone). This idiotic angle will rear its ugly head later in the movie too when he recognises her voice (she wasn’t screaming ‘Josh’, unfortunately).
James & his friends head off to Burkittsville to meet the person responsible for uploading the footage. This local agrees to show them where he found the tapes as long as they can come along which the group agree too.
Once in the woods it’s not long before things start getting weird with any hope of leaving there alive slowly diminishing. The group set up camp, the same Rustin Parr/Blair Witch stories are told while Peter, one of the group mocks & laughs at the stories. This character, Peter is one you’ll happily see crushed to death under a tree as he is such a disbelieving idiot. We get it, you don’t believe in the Blair Witch but bad stuff has happened in these woods (actual fact, not just stories) & your friends sister did disappear here so maybe not laugh at the locals, eh?
What makes it worse is that James also laughs as if it’s all one big joke. The increased cast ensures there is no time to build relationships with the characters but they are all so bland it doesn’t matter. The story is such a re-thread that you know exactly where the movie is going to end up & what is going to happen.
The story may be frustrating; the characters irrelevant but the worst thing about Blair Witch are the jump scares with 90% of them being people just popping out of nowhere loudly. These people are fucking ninjas for how quietly they approach others.
Being a more modern film we now get advancements in how this stuff is filmed. The main methods are these ear pieces that work as audio & video recorders. This means we get to see things from their perspective (head-height) which makes for an very unwatchable experience as they run, fall, flail around in darkness & scream.
There are no advancements made with the style of found-footage the movie spits out at the viewer. It’s the same rubbish that frustrates way more then it entertains. The potential use of a drone as a potential scare is implied but never realised as are references to time moving faster for some characters but not the others. These are flashes, moments when just briefly the film threatens to be more then just a below-standard jump scare-athon but it quickly abandons them in favour of more unimaginative results.
By time the film reaches its conclusion any hope that this would be a decent horror movie & the rebirth of the Blair Witch are lost in haze of blurry, unfocused images. The movie long ago decided to abandon subtly in favour of tents flying off in the sky & characters getting bent in half (hilarious, by the way).
What realism existed in the original movie is swapped out for CGI long-limbed creatures, crawling through a tunnel (that leads nowhere anyway) & character stupidity that results in moments of hilarity.
Blair Witch is more of comedy then it is a horror. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows might have been terrible but at least it tried, Blair Witch doesn’t in the slightest. What hope remained for the this series is gone & with this constant shoddy output so is the hope that the found-footage sub-genre can offer any original ideas.