It is true that many were eagerly awaiting another sequel to the ground-breaking original, The Blair Witch Project (1999). Once finally released 16 years later, did the fans really get what they were hoping for?
Blair Witch was directed by Adam Wingard who is known for his slasher/horror flicks. He made his directorial debut with Home Sick and is also known for his segments in V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and The ABCs of Death. Blair Witch had an estimated budget of $5,000,000 and grossed $9,576,057 in it’s opening weekend in the USA. The film was originally marketed under the title “The Woods” and was only revealed to be The Blair Witch Project sequel a mere two months prior to the premiere. Unlike the original, this film was fully scripted.
Presenting itself in the same found footage format, the film takes place in 2014 in which James prepares to venture back into the Black Hills Forest to find his sister Heather, the main protagonist from The Blair Witch Project. After stumbling upon a YouTube clip posted by “Darknet666” which depicts a woman screaming and fleeing in a decrepit wooden house, James becomes convinced the tape is of Heather. After contacting “Darknet666” whose real name is Lane, he is informed the tape was found in the infamous forest in Burkittsville, at the foot of a lightning struck tree. James manages to convince a group of friends, with a lot of tech, to join him in his search. Together they drive to meet Lane and Talia, who agree to show them where they found the tape and the location of the house, on the condition that James lets them stay with the group until the end. They resentfully agree. From this point on the film mirrors much of what happened in the original and only needs to be summarised like this; they all travel to Black Hills Forest, stay one night, creepy things happen, the group morale deteriorates, they can’t find their way out, the group separates, certain people go missing, they find the house, they die. Wash, rinse, repeat. The question is, could they have really made it any other way?
Please don’t take my dismissiveness as a disliking of the film. Let me tell you what lets this film down and what are it’s redeeming features.
The cons of this film are that at times, it is very predictable, Lane’s character being a good example of this. The film immediately diminishes his credibility with the use of the Confederate flag (not that the username “Darknet666” was doing him any favours). The flag is widely recognised as a symbol of segregation and racism. This first impression of Lane’s character introduces suspicion into the viewer’s minds. When one considers this and their request to camp with the group, you can only assume they intend to mess with James. Why Lane would do this to someone who is grieving and seeking out is sister, is not explained in the film. Of course, this results in absolutely no shock factor when Lane is revealed to be behind the first batch of wooden dolls. On the other hand, I can somewhat forgive this as it paved the way for that unpleasant scene when Ashley snaps the doll in two.
We can also easily predict the eventualities of this film, which makes most of the scare tactics quite weak. Sadly, we are met with jump scares galore and much of the creep factor that we experienced in the first film is lost to screams, loud noises and a very disappointing overuse of a long-limbed creature. Instead of having some interesting mythology that reaches back to the first film and beyond, Wingard attempts to justify his use of the bandy-legged creature by lazily slipping in that the witch, Elly Kedward, was tied to a tree in Black Hills Forest with her limbs weighed down and stretched by heavy rocks. This is a total reinvention of the witch and does not tie in with the original film in which Elly was banished from the town of Blair and was described as an old woman wearing a shawl. I can only interpret this as Wingard deciding which direction he was going to take the film in visually, with no regard to the original. Wingard has since stated that this creature is not actually the witch, which leaves me wondering if he is backtracking due to complaints from fans, or if the creature is really Elly, but the Blair Witch really existed long before her. The reason The Blair Witch Project was so successful in creating suspension was because we never saw the witch, or any creature. Something that makes a lot of older horror films and Asian horror films far better than the gratuitous contemporary cinema we see today, is that you barely see the monster.
I was also disappointed to find, much like in other horror movies, that the group of friends made many stupid decisions that lead to their premature deaths. I hoped that the film would have been more true to life in this regard, The Blair Witch Project did a far better job of this. I don’t know what sort of person would happily collect firewood on their own in such terrifying circumstances, either they are incredibly brave or dumb as a rock.
One redeeming part was the interesting sense that the group felt safer by being reliant on a huge amount of tech and GPS devices, and in the end, it served them no good whatsoever. The paranormal forces at work rendered the GPS completely redundant.
Another thing that I can praise this film on is the nod to something that was inferred in the first film and was discussed heavily by fans for many years afterwards. It’s an element that I often find interesting in films and that is the inclusion of that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Fans suspected that the house in The Blair Witch Project, and now in the Blair Witch, was the actual house of Rustin Parr. Considering that Parr’s house was burnt down, it can only mean that the house did not actually exist in their timeline. Once the witch’s victims had spent their first night in the woods, they found themselves trapped in an alternative place, unable to escape, endlessly walking in circles until they were eventually steered towards the house. I’m glad Wingard elaborated on this further, where the group starts to experience time slippage.
“It’s been 5 days since we saw you. Maybe 6. What the fuck is going on with the sun? The sun is not coming up! The sun is not fucking coming up!” – Lane
“You look exactly how I remembered.” – Lane
Eventually, unlike the first film, the group are submitted to a never-ending darkness.
“I set the alarm for 7 o’clock, it’s still dark outside.” – Lisa
It does leave the viewer with some interesting questions, such as, how long was Lane trapped there? Was he doing the Blair Witch’s bidding much like Rustin Parr?
Finally we learn that the tape that James thought was Heather was really Lisa all along, one can conclude from this that as the Black Hills Forest is a place no one would dare to venture anymore, this is the only way the witch can lure her victims.
All in all, I do not feel this film was a complete flop, I think it stands up much better than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) which I would be loathed to consider as part of the franchise. The film ends on a far less ambiguous note than the first, but I feel that was necessary. It’s watchable and could be scary to a younger audience. To summarise what I think of Blair Witch…
Please let me know if the Blair Witch was what you were hoping for by commenting below and you can look forward to my review of The Blair Witch Project in my Friday’s Favourite feature.