Blair Witch (2016) review
Beware of the Stick Figure Massacre
After new footage is uploaded onto the internet, a paramedic named James Donahue (James Allen McCune) believes that his sister Heather is still alive after disappearing in the Black Hills woods as part of the documentary team researching the Blair Witch that vanished over 20 years ago back in October of 1994. James’ friend Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez) is a film student who chooses to document James’ search for a class project. Along with James’ best friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), the four of them decide to camp in the Black Hills woods in order to find the house featured in the video that James is convinced his sister is somehow currently living in.
Before entering the woods, James and his friends meet up with the individuals who uploaded the video that inspired them to come out there in the first place. Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) are town natives and insist on tagging along.
Blair Witch isn’t a remake or reboot of The Blair Witch Project. It’s actually a direct sequel that chooses to ignore the events of the ultimately despised sequel from 2000 Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. The writing and directing team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard (You’re Next) are responsible for breathing new life into a classic horror legend.
The few glimpses of what you are able to decipher through the scrambled shaky camera technique utilized to present Blair Witch are terrifying. The anorexic figure with extended limbs that stalks Lisa is incredibly unnerving and the film has this claustrophobic moment that legitimately steals the breath from your lungs. The entire “I think this is my hair,” sequence with the stick figure is the one horrific moment shown fully on-screen and is more memorable because of it.
Those little moments don’t make up for the sheer waste that the rest of the film’s 89-minute duration truly is. There’s some sort of connection between individuals being ridiculously stupid and making terrible decisions in horror movies because it happens way too often to be a mere coincidence. Why you’d choose to camp in these woods where your sister likely died two decades prior and where there is documented proof that people don’t return from the Black Hills woods is about as brilliant as playing a game of Russian roulette with a loaded gun. Another instance that is sure to torture the logical part of your brain (without spoiling too much) is why in the world would you even attempt to climb a tree when one of your main appendages is seriously wounded? It’s as if the filmmakers are purposely taunting the audience and wanting people to yell at the movie screen in sheer frustration.
Blair Witch is basically treading a familiar concept with modern technology. The film showcases the equipment that Lisa uses for her documentary including a camera that attaches to someone’s ear with built-in GPS and a drone used for capturing overhead shots and possibly finding which way the highway is if you’re lost in the woods. The issue is that even with this updated tech the result is more or less the same; everyone still runs around like an aimless idiot, the camera glitches when someone suddenly sprints at full speed, and images captured on camera aren’t any easier to process today when the camera is being whipped back and forth and up and down as fast as humanly possible.
The sounds in the film are bizarre. They vary between sounding like trees falling in the middle of the woods, the ground being ripped apart by an earthquake, and a giant stomping its heavy tree trunk-like feet on the unsuspecting landscape. Blair Witch goes through this repetitive audio cycle of those sounds mentioned combined with the heavy breathing, unrelenting wailing, and thundering strings of profanity that are spat out by the main cast. The Blair Witch franchise seems to bank on intentionally disorienting the viewer into a state of confusion that surpasses that of the characters on screen.
These films piece together these teases of the horror that resides in Black Hills woods with little or no payoff. You think you see something hiding behind a tree or moving out in the distance, but never fully see it. You hear this monstrous commotion, but never experience the source. There are all of these jump scares without any actual substance. If you take the reveal out of the equation, the entertainment value plummets and you’ve been jabbed so many times with what could happen that you reach this state of pure aggravation. Cloverfield at least showcased the monster at the end while [REC] eventually unveiled what the storyline locked away. Why is it that after 22 years we still can’t get a good look at the Blair Witch?
Blair Witch is another cheap horror film and potential franchise for Lionsgate with a budget of only $5 million and another $20 million spent on advertising, marketing costs, and promotion. The film is bound to make a respectful amount at the box office, but it isn’t the franchise saving sequel some reviews are making it out to be. It’s essentially the original film reformatted for a more modern audience and has little to offer that wasn’t already in The Blair Witch Project. The found footage sequel is just as pointless, forgettable, and motion-sickness-inducing as the 1999 film. At least Blair Witch has the decency to shove its on-screen characters into the corner when they misbehave. All that’s missing is the dunce cap that each and every one of them deserves.