Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, and Brandon Scott
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most influential and successful horror movies of all time, and I was so not in the bag for the movie. I was 9 when it came out, the internet wasn’t really a thing that allowed streaming movies, and I didn’t have the access to movies like I do today. Not to mention I doubt that even if I heard of the movie at the time or showed any real interest in seeing it, my working class parents would take the time out of their lives to allow this movie to be unleashed upon the eyes of a kid who got deathly afraid of the tv spots for Bride of Chucky. It took me a while to see it, and I wasn’t into it. My hunch is that I didn’t see it within the time frame where the hype was unbelievable, with some people thinking it was real and the idea that it was one of the scariest movie ever was on everyones minds. Coming at it fresh, knowing it was a movie, and what it entailed, I didn’t care for it. It was lacking in events, the characters were shrill and annoying, and the found footage thing just didn’t connect with me like it very rarely does. I could recognize it was well made and was important. But just on a deep personal level, I didn’t hit with it. And there wasn’t even a chance I would see the second movie, as I heard nothing but poisonous things about it. So this was a “franchise” I couldn’t really care less about. Yet when Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s new movie The Woods was actually revealed to be a new Blair Witch movie, I got a bit interested. Not in the franchise, but in the filmmakers. I dug You’re Next, and straight up loved The Guest. So if anyone would get me into the series, they had a very good shot.
They have the unfortunate task of revitalizing a series that died 16 years ago, when the second movie just killed any momentum in it’s tracks. But since that sequel is a meta textual exercise, it doesn’t fit into this movie at all and Wingard/Barrett could go back to the source and work from there. And they do. Very much so, as this is a direct sequel to that one. It’s set 20 years later, as this is almost 20 years old now (fuck). We’re now following the younger brother of Heather from that movie, a young man who is desperate to try and figure out what happened to his sister. So him and a group of friends, one of whom is of course a documentarian, go out to the woods to see if they can find any new info. Armed with highly advanced tech, they are all outfitted with cameras to capture whatever is out there. Naturally, things go south and the something in the woods rears its ugly head again.
Not only do they use the first one to propel this movie forward narratively, but they very much follow a similar structure to it. It’s got the same slow burn intensity to it, the dedication to not showing you too much and allowing the emptiness to scare you more than clarity, and following very shrill idiots to their doom. For a movie as indebted to the original, it isn’t absolutely necessary to see it before hand. Hell, it’s been probably ten years at this point since I’ve seen it and I was fine. They do a good job at keeping you up to speed and filling in the blanks without stopping the movie cold. For a movie that old, it’s a good trick as there’s a strong chance a good deal of the Friday night crowd is too young to have any real memories of it. And while it mines the original for it’s structure and scare tactics, it works well enough and does enough on it’s own to work well. Cause let’s be real. 17 years later and a few million more on the budget, there’s gonna be more events and visual clarity. And it’s in the new stuff that really got me interested and has stuck with me almost a week later.
This is gonna get into spoiler territory so stay away if that matters to you. Ok, fair warning. I’m serious, fuck off if this shit matters to you. Fine. You’re decision. The biggest addition, to me, as the very strong yet subtle hint that the Witch isn’t actually a witch but an alien. Or that aliens are involved in some capacity. Because there’s a scene where it seems like an spacecraft is taking off. Or is it? I don’t really know, as it’s done so quickly and with no real sense of clarity, I felt like the movie just shifted this movie from supernatural horror to Sci Fi. Of course, there’s debate going on about this. Is it a spaceship or is it the witch altering time to make it go from day to night quickly? Either way, it makes some moves in the mythology. Cause either the thing is an alien or the witch is way more powerful than assumed. Cause there’s the element of shifting time ahead or making time stop, as well as time travel being a thing. Because the tape that gets the group to go into the woods turns out to be the tape they’re making. And of course, there’s the big reveal of the witch herself. Or not, as again nothing is ever given a definite answer. But we see something a few times that is fucking weird and not of this mortal coil. This tall, lanky and gangly creature that definitely looks like it could be the reincarnated evil version of this woman they assume is the witch who was killed back in the 1800s. They don’t overdo it and use the creature effectively. There’s other stuff they work with and add on to, but I’m not a mythology aficionado about this stuff, but it made the movie a good sequel and mythology builder.
This is far from a perfect movie. And I don’t even love it. It sticks way too closely to the found footage structure, where nothing really happens for a long time and when it does, we don’t see anything. The characters are again kind of annoying fucks. For a 90 minute or so movie, it takes it’s time. But the second half of the movie is a big shot of adrenaline, going full tilt crazy. It moves the movie forward, even if it isn’t completely spelled out. The world it’s set in is bigger than it was a week ago. It’s shot better than many other found footage movies, as they have the good gimmick of having bluetooth cameras attached to the actors ears, so we get better views of things. The movie has not performed well and is getting incredibly divisive receptions. Which is fitting, since that’s basically the MO of the series. No one can agree. This will never be a favorite of mine, but it helped me appreciate the series more. It may not win everyone over, but it did for me.