Not only was The Blair Witch Project one of the most profitable films ever made, it also created a new horror genre. Yeah, there were found footage movies like Cannibal Holocaust before The Blair Witch Project, but it wasn’t until the end of the ‘90s that the subgenre became an indelible part of horror. After fading away following the much derided sequel, Book of Shadows, Blair Witch is back 16 years later in a new sequel from the team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the team behind such genre hits as You’re Next and The Guest. The resulting film, which surprised audiences at Comic-Con when it was revealed that their movie The Woods was in fact Blair Witch, returns to the found footage subgenre in a briskly paced and thoroughly entertaining sequel with a healthy mixture of horror and humor.
In the years since the first movie, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) is haunted by the memory of his sister Heather, who disappeared all those years ago in the woods of Marylands. Upon the discovery of some new footage posted online in which James believes he gets a glimpse of Heather, he and a group of friends will venture into the woods in search of clues for Heather’s fate and a bit of closure for James. Accompanying James on his expedition is Peter (Brandon Scott), James’ best friend since childhood, Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who is documenting their journey as part of her documentary classes. Near their forested destination, the quartet is joined by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), two locals with their own lingering obsessions about the legendary Blair Witch. Unsurprisingly, their modest expedition doesn’t go smoothly as there’s something in the woods – only it’s not exactly what they’re looking for.
What really works well in Blair Witch is just how efficient the script by Simon Barrett is in establishing the camera technology employed by the characters and quickly eliminating the question that lingers in practically every found footage movie ever – why in the world are they still recording? Each character has an earpiece with GPS technology and a camera, so when things go bad they’re recording by default. Meanwhile, Lane and Talia have their own rundown DV camera, which presents the film with a new perspective and gives each recording device its own personality. Blair Witch establishes its characters and the technology so efficiently that it shames so many other found footage movies that employ the visual style as more of a gimmick that’s an afterthought.
The greatest virtue of Blair Witch is the fact that it’s really entertaining, starting out with some well-placed humor before slowly ramping up its horror. The horror that Adam Wingard incorporates into Blair Witch is varied – there’s gross out moments of gore, slow suspense, jump scares, and nightmarish landscape where things go bump in the night. In many regards, Blair Witch is a treading the same path as The Blair Witch Project with a ramped up roster of victims, but the film still works because of its confidence in its premise and the filmmaking skills of its creative team. Blair Witch has a sardonic sense of humor that makes it easy to get invested in the characters before they’re about to be enveloped in the woods.
As someone who doesn’t care for the found footage subgenre, I found Blair Witch to be a frightfully fun time at the movies. It’s not simply a sequel rooted in nostalgia hoping to pull the audience in with their familiarity with the source material, instead Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett use does of nostalgia counteracted with bits of new mythology that expand the film’s spooky universe without providing any more answers about the terror before us. Throughout Blair Witch I laughed, felt my heart rate rise, jump during a startling moment, and cringed at moments of gore. This sequel won’t reinvent the genre like its predecessor, but it’s a thrilling 90 minutes in the darkness that avoids all the trappings of its subgenre.
- Overall Score
An assured sequel and a fun found footage movie, Blair Witch builds upon the mythology of the original while providing a story that delivers horror and humor in good measure.