Blair Witch (2016)

Some scary delights
Blair Witch (USA, 16, 89mins)
Directed by Adam Wingard. Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson.

The Plot: James (James Allen McCune) discovers some footage in which he believes to have spotted his long-lost sister Heather. She disappeared in a house within the woods reputed to be haunted by the infamous Blair Witch. He is determined to find out what happened to her, so he teams up with Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a few others friends to venture out into the woods near Burkittsville.

They kit up, with wearable tech and a small remote-control drone for aerial footage but soon find themselves lost in the woods. They start to lose sense of time as well, with hours and even days passing by in the blink of an eye. Then there are loud noises in the night, creepy stick figures appear all around the camp and a presence is soon felt. The presence of something evil…

The Verdict: Released in 1999, The Blair Witch Project generated a lot of hype surrounding whether it was based on actual found footage or whether it was a fictional story. The then-innovative website stoked a lot of curiosity and interest… but the film itself turned out to be over-hyped and under-whelming to the point where this reviewer could not see what all the fuss was about. Fast forward 17 years and we have Blair Witch as it is now called, a stealth sequel that hid under the name of The Woods while in production.
Unlike Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, this new film is actually a direct sequel to the 1999 original. Once again, it has been hyped up. Take the exaggerated quotes on the poster with a pinch of salt. This is neither one of the scariest films of all time nor a new beginning for horror – that would be more applicable to the excellent It Follows. Instead, it is something of a
re-hash of the original but updated for more found footage-aware modern audiences.
Just when you thought the found footage sub-genre had nowhere else to go and nothing new to say… along comes this new take. The catch this time though is that it is a chase film which ups the ante by having more scary moments and actually giving the audience fleeting glimpses of the Blair Witch herself. That is both a good thing and a bad thing – good in that it creates tension and terror, bad in that the audience’s imagination is not as relied upon this time to fill in the visual blanks. What you see in your mind is far scarier than anything else a director can put onscreen.

Director Adam Wingard has already proven himself to be a superb director of modern genre films with You’re Next and The Guest. Blair Witch is an interesting turn of direction for him, going back to another film and seeing what could be done with it now. The use of technology in the film is a welcome addition, as is the attempt at exploring the backstory of the Blair Witch. There are certainly some unsettling and claustrophobic what-is-that moments that crank up the tension and atmosphere, particularly in the rain-soaked finale. But the film lacks the originality that Wingard has displayed so far in his other work. The characters are cardboard-thin and indistinguishable from each other – they are just cyphers to run and be terrified. That said though, Blair Witch has its scary moments and is gut-wrenchingly entertaining from the get-go. This is one journey back into the woods that is mostly worth taking.
Rating: 3/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor.