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Blair Witch (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Blair Witch

Blair Witch


Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry.

Screenplay by Simon Barrett.

Directed by Adam Wingard.

Distributed by Lionsgate.  89 minutes.  Rated R.

It is certainly up for debate whether or not this reboot of The Blair Witch Project – the 1999 film that pretty much single-handedly exploded the “found-footage” genre of horror filmmaking which continues to this day – is a sequel or a remake of the chiller classic.  The new Blair Witch has different characters and a slightly different back-story, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same old thing.

This is doubly of concern: partially because the filmmakers are promising something new and different, but mostly delivering the same old/same old, and partially because despite the fact that The Blair Witch Project is a legendary indie fright film, the truth remains that it has always been a bit overrated.  It is neither as scary, nor well made as myth would have it, it was just impressive that they made the film as good as they did on a true shoestring budget.

The storyline starts with a bit of a change-up: James (James Allen McCune), the much younger brother of The Blair Witch Project‘s character of Heather (Heather Donahue), decides 19 years after the fact to visit the woods where his sister and her friends mysteriously disappeared.

That’s where the change-ups mostly end.

James is accompanied on his trip by a platonic hot girlfriend (Callie Hernandez)who wants to turn the adventure into a documentary.  They are also accompanied by two friends (Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott) who tag along for the ride.  They visit the town and run across some locals (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who seem to be either unreliable or maybe even batshit crazy.  They all go out into the woods, camp in the dark of night, hear strange sounds in the woods, find themselves surrounded by weird figurines made of twigs, fight amongst them selves, get lost, walk around in circles in the dark and pouring rain, become more and more panicked, and finally end up in some dilapidated house which has mysterious creaking sounds and shadowy figures all around.

Sound familiar?

Yeah, thought so.  Beyond the original Blair Witch Project, pretty much every other found footage movie in the decade and a half since has followed some variation of that basic premise.  Sure, there are some small changes – more people get lost in the woods, the cameras (and drone) they use to capture the video are better and we spend more time in the house than the original Blair Witch did, but otherwise it’s pretty much more of the same.

Even the mysterious surprise release of the reboot – which was made in secret and not announced until a few weeks before its theatrical release – is similar to the original Blair Witch Project‘s stealthy “is it real or just a movie?” release campaign.  The original went so far as to have the actors use their own names for the characters, to have no opening credits and to skip a cast listing in the closing credits.  (For the record the character and actor names are all different here, though one character – that of James – shares the first name of the actor portraying him.  Different last name, though.)

Sadly the filmmakers never recognized that The Blair Witch Project became the hit that it became simply because it was so much different than any other horror film being made.  With its shaky camera moves, amateur-seeming acting, limited-but-unnerving special effects, and feel of being a real homemade video, Project was unique.

At least it was in 1999.  Now that style has been ripped off for sixteen years.  Blair Witch has no chance of capturing the freshness and surprise of the first time out.  Therefore they had two choices: to totally flip the script and do something spectacularly different from the original, or to simply ape the first movie and hope people will come out to see the new version as well over a decade and a half after the last one was somewhat forgotten.

Blair Witch unadventurously took the second tact, and thus has most of the problems of the original with almost none of its attributes.  Even though they are trying to put a new coat of paint on an old title, Blair Witch feels a little dated and very derivative.  Therefore even the good scares – and there definitely are some here – feel blunted.

I also like the concept that one of the people is looking for his supposedly long-dead sister, though the film seems to drop that elemental consideration for long stretches of time.  Only in the beginning and the end does finding his sister seem to be anything more than a convenient excuse for an adventure to James.

By the time the people are running around crazily in the dark, with only a flashlight’s beam to illuminate things, you come to realize that blackened woods look pretty much the same with newer equipment as they did back in 1999.

Which brings us back to a variation on the first question that opened this review.  Whether it is a reboot, sequel, or remake: was there really any need for a new Blair Witch movie after all these years?  Other than monetary, that is?  Blair Witch has me thinking probably not.  But if they were going to do it, I wish they had taken the time to make it better and hopefully a little fresh again.  You can only catch lightning in a bottle once, and the original film already used up the jolt coming from this story line.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: January 1, 2017.

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