New Review: Blair Witch (2016)
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: James Allen McCune, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Callie Hernandez, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
There is one (count it, one) gruesomely effective moment in the entire 89 minutes that Blair Witch plays out. It involves those stick figures which those unfortunate enough to be lost in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland will find shortly before dying at the hands of the titular villainess. Thinking it to be a prank pulled by one of the members in her party, one of the characters snatches one of the figures and rips it apart, only to discover (rather graphically) that those stick figures are actually voodoo dolls. Oops!
It is the one moment in the film that got a visceral reaction out of me. More to the point, it is the only scene in the movie that I reacted to in the way the filmmakers intended. The rest of the film is an agonizing bore, a witless and moronic rehash of the 1999 film which, if I’m being honest, wasn’t all that great to begin with. Yes, I kind of bought into the legend and thought that the movie was actual footage of the missing college kids. Of course, I was only 15 at the time, and that was before I saw the movie for the first (and only) time on VHS (the only thing I remember about it is that I had to stop it several times just so my head would stop hurting).
Then, there was a sequel that was released a year later, and despite the fact that it was blessedly filmed in a much more conventional way (no shaky camera crap), it was surprisingly worse than its predecessor. Now, 17 years after the original movie’s release, we get director Adam Wingard trying to revitalize the franchise by filming it in the same way the original movie was. That means LOTS of head-ache inducing shaky camera shots, and as an added bonus, we also get lots of ear-drum shattering sound effects, lots of flickering lights, and a dreary ramshackle house where the climax takes place. Visually speaking, this is one of the ugliest and most aggressive films that I’ve ever seen.
The story here follows college student James Donahue (James Allen McCune), the much younger sibling of Heather Donahue, who was one of the three kids who disappeared in the 1994 set events of the original movie. After discovering a video online where he believes he sees his sister very much alive, James decides to travel into the Black Hills Forest with his friends Peter (Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Lisa (Callie Hernandez), and the local residents Talia (Valorie Curry) and Lane (Wes Robinson) who uploaded the footage James watched online, to find out what happened to his sister (great plan!). Because Lisa is an aspiring documentary filmmaker, the characters each wear little cameras that are connected to their ears. Lisa also brings along a drone camera, and while there are some deliciously sinister developments the movie could have taken with the drone, they’re left frustratingly unexplored.
In fact, much of the film’s attempts at horror rely on the laziest trick in the book: The jump scare. There are so many scenes of characters jumping out for a quick “gotcha” moment, that when one of the characters says “I wish people would stop doing that,” it’s enough to make the audience nod their heads in agreement. Outside of that, we get many scenes of characters behaving like complete idiots. If someone hears a strange noise in the woods during the night, you can bet that they’re going to stick their head out of their tent to see what made that noise. And if the group needs wood for the camp fire, you can be sure that someone is going to wait until the dead of night to venture far out into the woods by themselves to search for fire wood. The opening text here ensures that nobody is going to survive their encounter with the witch, but even if it didn’t, it’s awfully hard to get too worked up over an imperiled doofus.
The first movie, as much as I hated it, was at least smart enough to keep the witch off screen and a complete mystery. The characters in that movie had no idea what they were dealing with, and neither did the audience. In contrast, Blair Witch provides way too much exposition for the witch, robbing her of her mystery, and shows her so often that she becomes less scary and more comical (the effects work on her are just bad). And what was the point of saying that just looking at the witch could kill you of fright when several characters survive looking at her from afar? One character uses a camera to see if the witch is coming up behind her, because looking at her directly will kill her, and….wait, what?
There’s also some nonsense about an inexplicable time loop the characters find themselves in, and which drives one of the characters to become a psychotic servant of the witch. None of it makes sense, none of it is scary, and the characters are all interchangeable horror movie stereotypes that you can’t give a rat’s patootie about. 2006 was the last time I have ever walked out on a movie in the theaters (it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). Since then, I have stayed with each movie I’ve seen to the bitter end, no matter how much I disliked them. I did, indeed, watch all of Blair Witch, although the urge to walk out on it was oh so strong. Looking back on it, I almost wish that I had.
Rated R for disturbing violent images, profanity
Final Grade: * (out of ****)