Friday, September 16, 2016

A Reel Review: BLAIR WITCH

In 1999, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT arrived in theatres with a boom. A simple tale of three teens lost in the woods and terrorized by a (perhaps, maybe) spectral witch, the film was presented through the teens’ video cameras…a style which had audiences convinced they were watching the real thing, and would usher in over a decade of found-footage copycats in horror cinema. Times have changed since then, in both the horror genre and in cinema, which makes its newest sequel, BLAIR WITCH, facing an uphill battle in re-capturing the magic that the original film had.  

Fifteen years after the events of the first film, James (James Donahue) is determined to find his lost sister who had vanished in the dense woods of Maryland while filming a documentary about a witch. He and his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reid), travel to Maryland and enlist the help of two witch-believers; Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), and venture out into the woods where strange things begin to happen…

Much like the first film, BLAIR WITCH does not have much by way of plot. Smartly avoiding any reference to the first sequel, the crap-tastic BOOK OF SHADOWS from 2000, this new film serves as a direct sequel; albeit fifteen years later. It’s still a film about a group of twenty-somethings lost in the woods and eventually terrorized by something unseen and menacing at night, but the point of James being out there to find his long-lost sister offers some weight to the characters and gives them a valid reason for being out there, along with drawing a direct line to the first film.

With so little plot, characters take center-stage. There are good pieces in place with James being determined to find answers, and Peter being a jerk-of-a-skeptic constantly clashing with locals Lane and Talia…who are convinced that the witch is real. The drama and conflict between characters is light, and only does just enough to get the message across in where everyone is coming from.

Director Adam Wingard borrows heavily from the original in replicating many of the old beats. He follows it a bit too closely, as items such as the nighttime noises in the form of inhuman screams with trees breaking and the haunting stick figures which appear out of nowhere appear at just the times we’d expect them to, and we can easily predict what’s going to come next. But if scares and a creepy atmosphere are what’s demanded out of a BLAIR WITCH movie, then Wingard does deliver. There’s a certain primal fear that we all have concerning being alone in the woods at night, and Wingard capitalizes on it perfectly. There’s plenty of jump-scares and some excellent sound-mixing to have us looking over our shoulders once the sun goes down.

Acting is very good for such a young and unknown cast. Most of them spend their time yelling at each other or screaming at the trees, but the film belongs to Callie Hernandez. The amount of fear she conveys is stunning, and a claustrophobic sequence with her crawling through an underground tunnel is performed with every bit of emotion the situation should bring out of anyone.

Wingard does a lot of work in bringing BLAIR WITCH into the new generation by playing some neat and clever tricks with today’s technology involving GPS, two-way radios, cell-phones, and even flying drones. He also spends time expanding on the myth of the witch, answering some old questions from the first film while raising some new ones, (some items work, some don’t), and a long-awaited glimpse or two of you-know-who is worth the wait. Overall BLAIR WITCH delivers the scares, and does its job as a worthy sequel, but it’s a lot of been-there, done-that…and doesn’t do quite enough to make the fear last much longer than the closing credits.


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