Found Footage Reused
And so it was that 1999’s Blair Witch Project joins the prestigious ranks of movies deemed to be a “brand” and therefore worthy of a disguised remake. That’s the ruse, used to great success recently with Jurassic World and The Force Awakens, where the pretence is that you’re watching a sequel rather than a rehash of the film you love. Fans go along with this deception because it indulges their hunger for the same stories with variations, while providing a much needed psychological crutch. Your favourite flick is not being replaced, it’s being continued. What an embarrassment of riches for film goers. What a time to be alive.
In Blair Witch’s case you’ll recall the original film was made for tuppence and grossed a small fortune (or a massive one relative to its budget). American critics and horror fans, who hadn’t seen Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, hailed it as an original – sinister cinéma vérité. Genre fans who were used to conspicuous manipulation and production values, dared to belief the mythology in the “lost footage” may be real. There was a website you could visit for further information. The grainy black and white images suggested authenticity. There were no special effects, no monsters, no traditional craft – just the canny use of sound, heavy breathing, distressed faces and the movie’s most important character – the woods, which creep out a lot of us, or so I understand when observing people from my hide.
You can’t blame Adam Wingard for wanting to remake it; the film, like most landmark horrors, has its own aura now. But the problem for the would-be copycat, is how to justify the act of plagiarism. You have to introduce either something new or something original (preferably both), else you’re wasting everyone’s time. Wingard has the germ of a new idea; a potential hoaxer, or force ten troll, looking to capitalize on the gullibility and outlandish hopes of James Alan McCune – the brother of original sniveling witch victim, Heather. But if Wes Robinson’s weirdo was supposed to be a serious red herring, Wingard blows it early with parallel paranormal activity, content that it should just be another destabilizing element amongst paranoid campers.
And it’s that exhibition, to learn Heather’s fate, that fatally undermines this particular Blair Witch Project (it really should be called The Heather Project, but if you don’t survive – spoilers – you don’t get to name it). James is simply too stupid a central character for us to get behind. The original movie had a simplicity to it; we understood that Heather had an interest in local urban folklore and it was clear that the group never imagined they were in any real danger by making their movie. James and friends, however, are investigating the mysterious woodland disappearance of a group – none of whom were ever found, but whose footage suggests they perished under sinister circumstances. So what to do? That’s right, exactly the same thing.
Assemble of group of amateur filmmakers and enter the same woods with no weapons, no support, no plan (bar the addition of a drone camera for aerial orientation), but, most mystifyingly of all, no real expectation that anything bad might happen. James and company laugh at local Wes Robinson’s warnings that they may be in mortal danger. They’re the skeptics, and they’re the ones who are chasing a woman who vanished in unexplained circumstances 15 years earlier.
So remaking the original film, but in colour with modern embellishments, like the need to show the beast, so destroying whatever ambiguity ever existed, makes little sense. “Oh, fuck this,” says James, belatedly, when most of his friends are gone, he’s caught a glimpse of a supernatural hag in the creepy abandoned house his sister last filmed in, and at the point when it’s clearly too late to do anything but die. But you’re tempted to reply, “no, fuck you”. For surely this imbecile should have at least entertained the possibility, that the witch was a thing. “I really believe she’s out here,” he tells pals. Well, if you believe that, why not take the legend seriously? Did he imagine she’s been living amongst bears all these years?
One can’t help feel this should have been the Aliens of the series, with a die-hard believer leading a hired group of bounty hunters, or other paid undesirables, on the hunt for the monster that killed his sister. Instead, James and his idiot pals, follow her fate, beat for beat, amateur shot for amateur shot. Let’s just hope that if James has a younger sister she’s smarter than he is and stays at home.