Film Review: Blair Witch

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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.

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Country: US

Year: 2016

Running Time: 89 mins

Certificate: 15 for colour footage, a foot injury that goes nowhere, and deja vu.

2 Responses

  1. Joe Chavez says:

    Great review; I literally felt the exact same way. Your thoughts were very entertaining (“no fuck you James”).

    One thing I was hoping you might comment on is the awful attempt at jump scares. Jump scares are the worst part of horror movies today. Although they can be used effectively as timing is everything, The Blair Witch used super-ultra-predictable jump scares. Not to mention half the time I couldn’t even tell what the hell was going on. One minute the girl with a sore foot is pushing a girl who magically dies, blood running from her mouth (which is wiped away the second time the camera pans her face) and everything, to all of the characters running away and some how getting split up, to the girl with a sore foot climbing a tree for AN OBVIOUSLY STUCK QUADCOPTER which she proceeds to test its flight capabilities taking off from the branches of a tree… “oh its stuck” she says.

    You were spot on with the stupidity of the characters. Its the cheapest plot device on the planet that is tirelessly used over and over again. I can literally see the writers sitting around a mahogany table shooting wads of paper through a trash can basketball hoop, with pyramids of RedBull cans, an old VCR with the Blair Witch Project VHS plugged into a 24 inch Sanyo, saying to themselves “well how do we get our characters into the woods iiiiiiiiffffff… lemme’ see here, they’re skeptics yet they have mountains of evidence to suggest anything otherwise? Let’s just make them dumb. Genius!”

    I don’t know man… this was irritating at best. Also, were they (filmmakers) hinting at the Blair Witch being alien? I kind of hope so. I would pay to see Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton, plus a rag tag round em’ up shoot em’ up team take on the Blair Witch.

    Once again, great review and thank you for writing,

    • Dave Wave says:

      Oh, God, was this disappointing. I saw the bad reviews when it came out, and should have stayed away. The first 30 minutes were pretty good, the black actor is great. Then it got deathly dull. There were jump scares in pairs, like two lame-ass ones in a row. How is it that the invading person moves silently?? And when people are very scared, what boyfriend or friend would creep up in your face like a complete asshole? All that running on paths, green twigs! Eww, scary. Not. I mean, what does James think, his sister is gonna be a little disheveled but not much worse for the wear? “Oh, thanks for getting me. I was getting bored in this scratched paint house, all alone, damn I’m famished!”