Blair Witch (2016)
★ / ★★★★
The scariest thing about “Blair Witch,” directed by Adam Wingard, is its audacity to exist despite having no good reason to. From top to bottom it reeks of mainstream horror film stench, from the painfully standard jump scares to the ostentatious exhibition of paranormal phenomena. Its most crucial limitation is that it has forgotten what made “The Blair Witch Project” so effective and chilling as a found footage picture: every image in the 1999 instant classic is so realistic, one can believe—and people did believe—that it actually happened.
This unbearably dull modern sequel dares to establish a tenuous connection to the first simply by mentioning a doomed character’s name from its predecessor whenever convenient. It makes no effort to establish an identity of its own despite being a sequel—curious because Wingard has shown in the past that he is a filmmaker who understands the importance of tone and mood to support a specific story being told. “You’re Next” and “The Guest” showcase his abilities from behind the camera. Put this work next to these films and it not merely pales by comparison but it disappears completely.
The curious twenty-somethings who venture into the woods (James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott) are not at all interesting. A fresh idea is that the four friends are equipped with various gadgetries. However, the writer, Simon Barrett, fails to inject intelligence, creativity, irony, or even a sense of humor into the increasingly desperate situation. Instead, we get the usual servings of the place, or possibly the witch, or witches, who reside in the forest, supposedly being able to manipulate time, potential victims running around while screaming, and flashlights not working during crucial moments. Not one personality is memorable.
In the middle of the picture, I caught my mind going back to the original and appreciating its minimalist approach. There are no flying yellow tents, no skeletal-looking figure lurking in the woods, no sudden boom in the score or soundtrack. Instead, there are creepy shadows (accidental or on purpose), it captures the eeriness of the forest even though the camera sees nothing there but the movement of the leaves, and the silence is deafening when a subtle sound of twigs breaking can be heard in the night. There is an escalating level of tension and suspense that this horrific sequel lacks.
Nobody expects “Blair Witch” to reinvent the found footage subgenre or to be as impactful as its predecessor, but I do expect it, at the very least, to try to deliver the requisite chills and thrills that should come with the kind of movie it attempts to be. But I got the impression that the filmmakers here did not even try to make a good movie but to merely cash in on a familiar name. The lack of inspiration is palpable in every frame.