The Blair Witch Returns
Way back in 1999, advertisements starting appearing for a movie called The Blair Witch Project. I’m not ashamed to admit I bought it for a little while. It can’t be real right? Did they actually find this footage? Of course, the myth didn’t last long but I was already intrigued. Especially as an aspiring filmmaker myself in those days.
That summer, my friends and I made a couple short films conveniently set in a nearby forest. Indeed, The Blair Witch Project inspired me before I had even seen it. Back in those days, going to the movies wasn’t exactly easy. We lived 30 minutes away from the closest theater and I wasn’t quite 16 yet. No ride? No movie.
Months later, I finally saw the film in a dark basement with a group of my friends on home video. It was terrifying in the best possible way. I loved The Blair Witch Project. I loved the mythology. I LOVED the marketing campaign. Most of all, I loved that they accomplished so much with so little and created a phenomenon.
Fast forward 17 years… It’s 2016 and I’m more than double the age I was in 1999. (Crazy) We just suffered through a surprisingly disappointing summer movie season. It was a collection of blockbusters that promised a heavy amount of nostalgia but couldn’t quite deliver. Films like Independence Day: Resurgence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, X-Men: Apocalypse to name a few…
In a way, these films helped level out my expectations for a film like Blair Witch. Too many times we’ve seen sequels appear decades after the original’s release. Dumb and Dumber To, Tron: Legacy, ID4: Resurgence etc… Those were sequels to some of my favorite movies of all time. Unfortunately all they did was remind me how good the original was without bringing anything new to the table.
Blair Witch doesn’t fall into that trap. It takes the core concept and structure and injects new ideas resulting in a worthy sequel to a cult classic. I have to give credit to the filmmakers for updating the ‘found footage’ template with new technology without ‘cheating’. The new cast has a whole collection of filmmaking toys including head mounted cameras, GPS and drones. (Although the drone was underused and never gave us a big payoff.)
The story follows the younger brother of Heather from the original who wants to find out what really happened to his sister. He sets out with a group of his friends and a couple guides to discover the truth that lies in the woods. As they make their way deeper into forest, we get new perspectives on the legendary Witch and the violent history of
Once night falls, Blair Witch is relentless. As the mysterious evil entity toys with her victims, we get new details about the nature of her powers and the source of her anger. Blair Witch bends time and reality in ways I didn’t expect. Characters quickly realize they are over-matched and THEN the mayhem ensues.
It’s actually surprising how much they crammed into such a modest running time. The final half of the movie never stops with one jump scare after another. These jumps occur so frequently, I would actually consider it a detriment to the film. There are a TON of jump scares that amount to nothing more than misdirection. It’s still a fun ride but after a while, I found myself wondering when the ‘real’ scares would occur.
That’s right about the time the remaining characters found their way to the Witch’s cabin. It is here we get subtle elements of time travel and delve deeper into the lore of the Blair Witch. I loved it. Especially how they connected the final act to the original film. Who knew something as simple as facing a wall in a decrepit basement could be so effective? Blair Witch elaborates on the fantastic ending of the original by showing us why it’s important to face the wall. Blair Witch has its flaws. The characters aren’t the greatest and there are far too many ‘nothing’ scares. But it’s the ending that shined brightest for me.
I will admit, I was incredibly disappointed when the Witch makes an appearance in the final moments. HOWEVER, those feelings were squashed when writer Simon Barrett confirmed it is NOT the Witch we see.
That is a big deal! The idea of the Blair Witch is what terrifies audiences. Showing her face robs her of her power. We don’t need to see her. But there’s a problem… Audiences who don’t follow movies closely likely missed Barrett’s tweet. They will no doubt believe that was the Witch.
Which leads me to another question: Who was that? The only logical answer is Heather right? Right!?
Blair Witch didn’t exactly light the box office on fire like executives probably hoped. But the film only cost five million to make and likely made enough to merit and equally inexpensive third installment. Until then, the mystery of the Blair Witch lives on and I’m excited to see what happens next.