Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes
Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: January 3, 2017
When The Blair Witch Project first graced screens some 17 years ago, it was a phenomenon and a force. It introduced the ‘found footage’ film into the horror genre, and became one of the most successful independent films of all time, made with very little money and grossing millions.
It earned all of that because it was fresh, new, and truly frightening, and reminded all of us horror fans that you don’t need gore, music and jump scares to be effective. Seeing nothing is much more unnerving than seeing a witch.
It was inevitable that it spawned legions of imitators, none of which came close (possible exception being the first Paranormal Activity). Even its own sequel Book of Shadows was an exercise in futile weakness.
Now they’ve tried again, bringing an interesting twist and technique to the proceedings. The twist is that Heather, the doomed heroine of the first movie, had a younger brother James (McCune), who has grown up wondering what happened to his sister. Here, thanks to some new ‘found footage’ by a pair of internet ‘stars’, he sees what he believes is Heather, somehow still alive after all this time.
So he gathers a few friends for a new expedition into the woods where Blair used to be, and that brings us the technique: while the original cast had a bulky film camera and a tape-using camcorder, we’re now in an era where anyone with a phone can shoot high definition video. His friend Lisa, who wants to film the proceedings, sets the team up with hi-def earpiece cameras to bring us plenty of POV shots, and even a drone.
That’s all good to an extent…I’m not sure if making a movie like this seem more polished and professional hurts or helps the context, but it should please those who found the look of the original a little too nausea-inducing. In truth, nothing was shot with the earpiece cameras, but designed to look that way, and it’s noticeable; characters look directly at you when in reality, they would be looking in the eyes of the filmer and the angles would be slightly off.
But that’s not the biggest problem…the true witch in the room is that we’ve seen it all before. New cast, new day, same results. Blair Witch even ends exactly the same way as the first movie.
In between, there’s less in-fighting. One girl gets injured early on. The internet ‘stars’ have a few designs of their own; can they be trusted? That’s hard to answer, especially when they leave the group for half a day and come back in terrible shape claiming many days have passed.
The drone camera was a nice addition, but ends up useless, to our frustration. There are sticks and stones galore for those familiar with the franchise. And the house, which has taken on even more menacing properties…time and space seem to dissolve into meaningless there.
The lack of originality is one thing, but the lack of faith in the original material is more alienating. We have loud jump scares galore, which annoys me…being startled and being scared are two different effects. In fact, the overkill of the soundtrack definitely takes the viewer out of the moment that this is supposed to be on-the-fly filmmaking, as one can’t help but think of the sound editors having fun with the dials.
The cast is okay, but some experiences can’t be repeated. The original movie is a time capsule candidate. It’s success ensured decades of attempting to repeat the magic. Box office dollars will continue to temp the imitators. And fans will continue to think about the first film while trying to shake the old been-there-done-that feeling.
As mentioned, the new technology makes this a better looking film than the original. It looks good on Blu-ray…whether or not the improved appearance helps or hurts, I’ll leave for you to decide.
I can say exactly the same about the uncompressed 7.1 audio. Sounds good, very dynamic, but does it spoil the effect? Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, more so than it would be if it were actually captured on personal devices, but…there it is.
There is a commentary with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barret, plus an hour-forty 6 part documentary on the making of the film, featuring cast and crew interviews, and an exploration of the house setting. There are also some coming attraction trailers and a DVD and digital HD copy.
Lightning can and does sometimes strike the same place twice, but more often than not, it doesn’t. Such is the case with Blair Witch. A noble effort, but the second ride on a roller coaster is never as good as the first, much less the umpteenth time.