There’s probably nothing more difficult for filmmakers and studios these days than trying to keep a big secret under wraps. There are the hungry film journalists working every possible angle to uncover the latest big scoop, and often big surprises are uncovered well before they were intended to be revealed. I’m not here to say whether or not this is right or wrong, it’s simply just how things are in the modern era. In the months leading up to 2016’s Comic-Con in San Diego, the filmmaking duo of writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard had been subtly hyping their latest movie, The Woods. The minds behind The Guest and You’re Next would be behind a horror film set in a secluded forest, and with their strong track record horror fans were excited. But then the big reveal came in San Diego – The Woods wasn’t what everyone thought, it would be the brand new sequel to The Blair Witch Project, simply titled Blair Witch.
It’s quite difficult to overstate the influence of The Blair Witch Project on the modern horror landscape. Made on a shoestring budget, The Blair Witch Project is not only one of the most profitable movies ever made, it basically created, for better or worse, the found footage genre which has become an indelible part of low budget horror. But after a very unpopular sequel, 2000’s Book of Shadows, the series met an unceremonious end until its revival in 2016.
Blair Witch brings the series back to its found footage roots in what is a sequel that expands its scope because of technological advances while retaining a sense of mystery to the horrific mythology that captivated audiences nearly two decades ago. As someone who is not fond of found footage movies, I find Blair Witch to be a refreshing change of pace within a genre that has stagnated since The Blair Witch Project. Each of the new characters are fitted with their own recording devices which gives Blair Witch a unique level of individual perspective that is often absent from found footage movies. Also, the nature of the technology ensures that the characters aren’t spending their screen time explaining why they’re still recording as all hell breaks loose, something that happens far too often in movies of this ilk.
The story of Blair Witch is a fairly straightforward sequel to the original. James (James Allen McCune) lost his sister in the original film all those years ago and has never lost hope that she might one day be recovered. When he discovers new footage online, James agrees to participate in a documentary on the search with his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez). Their accompanied by James’ best friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and everyone is equipped with their own cameras to document each and every one of their discoveries. The quartet is soon joined by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), two locals that have their own fascination with the mythical Blair Witch. Can you guess where it goes from here? Needless to say that it’s not exactly a pleasant camping trip in the woods.
Aside from the fact that Blair Witch is an amplified, modernized sequel that escalates the horror with a larger scale of spooky happenings and some grotesque body horror, the movie really understands one thing that few movies that take place so long after the original realize – over-explaining the nature of evil is often extremely underwhelming. Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard expand the mythology of Blair Witch but only to a minute degree, which greatly adds to the film’s effectiveness. The conclusion of Blair Witch leaves viewers with a number of unanswered questions about the nature of the evil that haunts the woods, retaining an ambiguity that makes horror all the more unsettling. There are little nods to the original film but no egregious callbacks, leaving the film to stand on its own while fitting into a larger series.
The rise of streaming services have laid waste to home video special features. Nowadays, you’re lucky if there’s a modest featurette or two on Blu-ray set unless you’re purchasing from the pantheon of distributors like Shout! Factory, Criterion Collection, or the revitalized Vestron Video. The Blu-ray for Blair Witch contains some of the best special features for a new release in sometime. Not only does the disc contain audio commentary from Wingard and Barrett, but it has a feature-length documentary that examines every aspect of Blair Witch from development to release. How the true nature of the film was kept under wraps is explained in great detail, the filmmakers and actors divulging the various set of tricks employed to prevent word leaking. Most fascinating within the lengthy documentary are the various cameras used to capture the feeling of individual characters recording the film’s events, as well as the work by the editing and sound departments to flavor the film with glitches that feel naturalistic for the film’s presentation. This is a truly in-depth Blu-ray set that should be an object of desire for any hardcore fans of the Blair Witch series.
Blair Witch isn’t the kind of movie that is going to win over a lot of new converts to the series. It’s an updating of the original premise with little flourishes that help it stand apart from its legendary origins. But for horror fans there’s 90 minutes of pulse-pounding intensity that escalates with some rather impressive gore effects and some rather crazy moments of things going bump in the night. Is Blair Witch a great movie? No, it’s just a fun movie from a team of filmmakers who are relishing every minute of making this mayhem.