Blair Witch (2016)

by Adam M. Wilcox

In the 1995 film Mallrats, Ethan Suplee plays a character named William, an overweight person who spends most of his day at the mall staring at magic eye poster trying to see the image. The joke is that everyone in the film can see that there is a sailboat in the image, but William never sees it. The aggravation of it all drives him slowly insane. That is essentially The Blair Witch Project phenomenon for me. There are several of my good friends that maintains that this movie is piss your pant’s scary, however I never bought it. Not even once. Essentially I am William in Mallrats.

When I tell people that I hate The Blair Witch Project, I mean it. To this day I use it as a litmus test to judge how bad a movie is. See The Blair Witch Project is not a so bad its fun to watch movie. It is just bad. It is downright painful. In spite of the movie tripping on it’s own established facts, its single biggest sin, is that it showed so much potential, but instead is a proving ground about generating enough hype surrounding your film can make it actually seem good in the eyes a general audience. In 1999, it was all the talk as to just how real this horror film was supposed to be. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. For two filmmakers in 1999 they pulled that off like gangbusters. The legendary viral marketing, and old fashioned word of mouth, is a significant land mark in pop culture. The film itself however, is divisive as to how good it really is. I decided to do some further research on this movie, because now I have unlimited access to internet, which was not readily available to me in 1999. I discovered that this year marks the 20th anniversary so I decided to watch the movie again, and give it the fairest review I can, that you are more than welcome to read on this website. I spent a great deal of time arguing with friends of mine last week about the points that didn’t work for me in the original film. One of the things that kept coming up outside of Wikipedia or any of the outside resources was this 2016 film that allegedly explains some of the ambiguity of the original source material. Out of respect for those people and they’re passion about this movie, I reluctantly decided to give this a go.

I actually enjoy some of the films in this genre that we now called “found footage”; I think it can be clever when done properly. My favorites would probably be some of the Paranormal Activity movies, Cloverfield, Troll Hunter, and the V/H/S series. It’s just another form of storytelling now. Back in 1999, it was not a genre, and The Blair Witch Project influenced enough film makers to pursue this genre to the point where it has become a rather saturated market that is now showing signs of stagnation among film goers. The point of the original Blair Witch Project was to present itself as a historic event, rather than just a simple movie. Twenty years later, unless you have been in a coma, everyone knows that it was mostly a publicity stunt designed for entertainment. So it seems rather curious to me now that we would do a sequel or soft reboot of the original now. It is kind of like trying to open a hamburger stand between a Burger King, and a McDonald’s. Sure there is a market there, but you better make sure you bring something extremely new to separate your brand from the others right?

Set in modern 2016, we are given the same opening credits where we are told this footage has been found, and all of these people went missing. So we know shenanigans will inevitably occur. We open up with James looking at YouTube footage that appears to be taken in the same house as found in the original movie. He pauses on an image that appears to be his sister, Heather who went missing from the original documentary. So this takes place in the universe where the assumption is that the movie was real, and that none of those people were ever found. And I am ok with this. James is a paramedic, so I guess he has a pretty disposable income, because now he enlists the aid of his friends Peter, Ashley, and Lisa who all have high tech cameras that are attached to a Blu-Tooth headphone. They also have a surveillance drone which appears to be a plot point, but we will get into that later. His contact is the YouTuber Darkwebb666 who happens to live just outside Burkettsville MD, the location of the woods where the original 3 people went missing. Once they meet, the film gets somewhat interesting, and the Darkweb aka Lane, and his girlfriend Talia insist on going into the woods with them to show where they found the film they used in the YouTube video.

As you can see, despite the twist of having some strangers join the crew at the last minute the set up here is pretty much identical to the first movie. Where it goes completely different though, is that THIS particular movie wastes no time telling you that there is a definite supernatural element. The original film left most of this ambiguous and open to interpretation. Where this one falls apart however is very early on. James is watching the ending of The Original Blair Witch project which SPOILERS reveals Mike standing in a corner just before the camera hits the ground. In THIS movie, even though he is supposed to be watching the same video, a loud supernatural howl is added, which you have to admit, feels kind of cheap. And that brings me to my next point. Every time the movie is trying to build tension, there is a loud audible hum that signals that something supernatural is about to occur. It’s almost an assault on my intelligence. The best scares are when you least expect it. This film goes a bit too out of its way to set them up. The other problem I have is that overuse of jump scares ruin this movie right off the opening credits. There are so many jump scares even in scenes where jump scares are not even necessary, and they are so frequent, that by the time they matter, you can see them coming a mile away. My third problem is that this movie is using conventional special affects to show you that there IS something supernatural going on, and that is where this movie goes way off the rails. In this universe the Blair Witch can manipulate time. Some of our gang wakes up late in the afternoon, thinking it is morning. Some wake up in the morning and there is no sunlight. At one point the two YouTubers separate from the group, and when we see them again, Lane has a beard and says it’s been weeks since he saw them the last time. I liked this idea actually. In fact this might be the only aspect I liked. However, there is another factor that is briefly introduced, but seems to go absolutely nowhere. Early in the film, these kids foolishly cross a stream BAREFOOT, and Ashley apparently scrapes her ankle. It slowly gets more infected and starts moving by it self. Eventually some creature is pulled out of her ankle. Thought they were going to pick up that part of the plot and go somewhere with it. Never happens. A lot of things never happen. The drone goes up enough just to show us, that the highway cannot be seen, and conveniently crashes. The drone is found later in a tree. When Ashley tries to climb the tree with an infected ankle, she falls out of the tree, and is apparently dragged away.

As you might expect, things go from bad to worse for these kids, until they finally wind up the mysterious house from the first film that literally appears out of nowhere. Once they get into the house there is an interesting sequence that takes place, but like many of the events in the film, not all of them pay off. They even show us The Blair Witch herself/itself, who may or may not be a witch at all. The house might even be a spaceship. Yes I typed that. Also, the movie tries to be clever by telling you that if you look at the witch or whatever it is, it will get you, so they use the view screen of Lane’s original camera to watch for the witch. Ultimately though, it ends pretty much the way you think it would.

This movie had a couple of good ideas that work, but when framed around the Blair Witch lore, it kind of just doesn’t work at all. The over use of sound cues, jump scares, and visuals diffuses the tension and removes the believability of it being found footage. I think the director tried here. He was obviously a fan of the original, and wanted to present his version of that movie, but it just comes off as a cynical reboot of a movie style that has long been lost in a sea of white noise. Ultimately I found that if you are fan of the original, you will most likely love this one too…I think it respects those fans. If you were not a film of the original, unfortunately this one will not win you over, or convince you the original was better than it is. Unfortunately I am biased, so take my score with a grain of salt. I give it 1 out of 5 cheese curds, 1 cheese curd for the awesome chase sequence at the end.

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