blair_witch_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Adam Wingard
Writer(s): Simon Barrett
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 89 mins

Synopsis: After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his sister’s experiences in the demonic woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling. (Source)

In theory, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett seem like the perfect duo to revisit the Blair Witch, having built a career around clever, cheeky genre dissection and subversion. It’s a shame then, that Blair Witch plays it safe, resulting in a disappointing case of too little, too late. To be fair, Wingard and Barrett haven’t made a bad film, just one that feels too formulaic at a time when found footage has been reinvented and revitalized numerous times over. The latest film aims to be more of a roller coaster ride to the original’s intimate, psychological exploration – it’s louder, faster and bigger, but not necessarily better. Though there are some bright spots scattered throughout, overall, this isn’t a film that’s particularly noteworthy by any stretch.

The film picks up years after the original, with the discovery of some new footage. After it’s uploaded to YouTube, it catches the eye of a guy named James (James Allen McCune), who’s been looking for his sister (the original film’s Heather Donahue) ever since she disappeared into the Maryland woods. James has never given up hope, and this new discovery hints that Heather may still be out there. Interested in his search, is Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a budding filmmaker looking to turn his story into a documentary. Together with their two friends, Peter and Lane, as well as the two Blair Witch conspiracists who found the new video, the group head back into the woods looking for answers and hopefully some closure – what they find, of course, is something none of them are prepared for.

The film’s biggest flaw is that it’s too slavish to the original. It hits almost all the exact same beats, follows the exact same structure and adds little to the mythology in a way that matters. While the original was a work of ingenuity, turning its limitations into strengths out of necessity, this latest film finds Wingard and Barrett limited by their decision to create a more polished version of something we’ve already seen. This slick polish hurts the film in more ways than one, making it feel less genuine, and in turn, lowering the effectiveness of each scare. Sure, the stick men are bigger, there’s a higher body count, drones and walkie’s are put into play, and there’s a climax that plays out like a great haunted house chase, but none of these things can shake a stale familiarity. Ironically, the film only really flourishes when it goes for broke and embraces its lunacy in those final, thrilling minutes. Unfortunately, when the film finally ends, we know as much as we did when it began, leaving the mythology sadly untapped despite some inspired, late-game twists.

blair_witch_2Another way the film fails is with its characters. Unlike the original, which allowed us to watch three friends’ sanity unwind, none of the characters here have any real motivation or defining characteristic – they’re so obviously witch-fodder that we can’t really relate or care about any of them. The performances are also fine – these kids look the part and help to sell the film’s realism with what little they’re given, but they don’t have much to do other than get scared or bicker.

If Blair Witch came out shortly after the original (which came out almost two decades ago!), it would’ve been a great followup that escalated things and got us wanting more. In relation to all of the inspired found footage films that’ve have changed the game since then (see: Rec, Trollhunter, As Above, So Below, Chronicle, Europa Report and even more socially savvy films like Unfriended), this film just doesn’t leave much of a mark, giving us exactly what we expect, but not in a good way. The worst part of it all, is that there’s legit talent behind the screen; everything’s constructed competently, and a few scares connect and surprise. Ultimately, there just isn’t enough to hang on too, and this is a film that’s just content to hit the bare minimum, rather than really forge its own path.

SG