BLAIR WITCH (8 out of 10) Directed by Adam Wingard; Written by Simon Barrett; Starring Callie Hernandez, James McCune, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid; Rated R for “language, terror and some disturbing images”; Running time 89 minutes; In wide release September 16, 2016.
To keep a secret in Hollywood is nearly impossible, but it’s happened twice just this year. First with the surprise of “10 Cloverfield Lane” and secondly with “Blair Witch” which was originally teased as “The Woods” until San Diego Comic Con. While it’s a stretch to say that people were clamoring for another entry in this series after the abysmal “Book of Shadows”, the original does rightfully hold its place as a horror masterpiece. Happily, this new outing succeeds more than it misses, and while it doesn’t come close to surpassing “The Blair Witch Project”, it easily holds its own and will scare the hell out of you.
It’s best to approach “Blair Witch” with as little foreknowledge as possible, so my synopsis will be brief. The story picks up 20 years after Heather Donahue and her film crew from the original mystery were lost and presumed dead in the Black Hills forests. Her brother, James Donahue (James McCune), has recently found new videos uploaded to YouTube that may give a hint as to what happened to his sister, so he and his friends set off to follow in her footsteps to discover what actually took place. And that’s all that really needs to be said as this movie must be experienced firsthand to get the most enjoyment out of it.
What I will gladly say is that everyone who loved the original is going to have a blast here. While the actors don’t quite convey the same level of terror as in “Blair Witch Project”, they are capable of being relatable and getting the audience to care and be invested in them. So while neither James nor his filmmaking friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) give us anything as horrifying and heart wrenching as Heather Donahue sobbing into the camera asking for forgiveness in the first story, they still exude abject terror as they are baited and hunted by the Witch.
And speaking of her, director Adam Wingard wisely chose to shoot the scenes so that it is the audience’s imagination that is constantly setting them on edge. Yes, there are a few unnecessary cuts that give a start, but the fear of the unknown and incredibly creepy sound effects will get everyone’s adrenaline flowing. He also uses newer technology such as drones and portable, Bluetooth cameras to ramp up the tension since the audience now has multiple screens and points of view for the ambush to come from. He takes this to the extreme in the last 20 minutes where he deftly edits together what appears to be raw footage into some of the most intense moments ever seen in a horror film.
Not that it always succeeds. The plot does meander about too much and becomes convoluted in ways that are never brought to fruition. A few loose ends lying around can help set up a sequel, but “Blair Witch” doesn’t even try. It also plays a bit too closely to the first movie and seems afraid to tell a new narrative. Playing homage to a classic is perfectly fine, but make the story your own and don’t be afraid to do things differently.
“Blair Witch” does exactly what it sets out to do in scaring the hell out of people. While it will never be as fondly remembered as the first film from nearly two decades ago, it has enough of its pedigree and adds in a few new twists to make it a fun and frightening film. Just don’t watch it right before going camping in the woods.
8 out of 10