Man Seeking Movies: The Blair Witch returns

A horror film classic becomes a generic slew of jump scares in this sequel.

By Jack Cronin | Sept. 22, 2016

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Love it or hate it, The Blair Witch Project was an undeniably unique movie. It was released in 1999, before the horror genre became oversaturated with found-footage films and movies presented and marketed as true stories. Even the narrative and its distinct lack of jump scares would be considered fairly atypical both today and at the time of its original release.

After 17 years and one embarrassing sequel, Director Adam Wingard teamed with Lionsgate to create yet another disappointing follow-up. Blair Witch is essentially the same movie as the original, except with added jump scares, increased paranormal activity and worse characters.

Fifteen years after his older sister disappeared in the Black Hills Forest in Maryland as portrayed in The Blair Witch Project, James (James Allen McCune) leads an expedition of a few friends and a pair of locals into the supposedly haunted woods to find her. Like its predecessor, the group records the experience for a school documentary. This time, however, advancements in technology have allowed for first-person cameras attached to their ears and a remotely operated drone in addition to a traditional handheld video camera.

Within their first night in the woods, the group awakes to a variety of spooky noises. Come morning, they disconcertingly discover creepy stick figures hanging over their campsite, prompting them to quickly depart. From there, the predicament escalates rather quickly when the group splits and people start disappearing.

Where this rising action steadily creates a sense of dread and impending doom through the group’s internal conflicts in the original, Blair Witch hastily jumps into a tense, nervous panic. Most of the frights come from the dark woods and frequent jump scares that, more often than not, are the result of characters barging into each other’s tents or abruptly running into each other.

In fact, the characters and their dynamics have little, if any, impact on the movie outside of simply moving the plot. James is inexplicably driven to find someone he hasn’t known since he was 4. The other characters might as well be nameless, because they’re better described as James’s best friend (Brandon Scott), the documentarian (Callie Hernandez), the local townies (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) and, my personal favorite, the girl who keeps re-injuring her foot for supernatural reasons that are never explained (Corbin Reid).

Okay, so its characters aren’t very good and it’s not The Blair Witch Project. But is it scary?

Yes, Blair Witch is most definitely a frightening and suspenseful horror movie. While the jump scares are often unnecessary, they are pretty effective. Audiences will react and be momentarily relieved when characters collide, only to remember that James and company are still lost in haunted woods facing a supernatural threat.

The problem is that, because the characters aren’t great and the rising action is rushed, Blair Witch doesn’t make for a very real experience. Toss in the film’s amped-up paranormal absurdity, from flying tents to nights that never end, and the result is a film that takes place in a reality that feels far removed from our own.

Blair Witch isn’t a terrible movie. It’s the product of a Hollywood mindset that says sequels have to be bigger and badder than their predecessors. By trying to do that, Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have created a movie that has strayed from what made the original so unique. Their movie is still pretty scary, but it won’t linger with audiences after the credits roll because it feels neither real nor relatable.

MOVE gives Blair Witch 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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