In the Summer of 1999, The Blair Witch Project hit theaters and took the world by storm. This shoe-string budgeted found footage horror movie was a critical and box-office smash that kicked off a new wave of ‘recovered’ horror movies. As a kid, I was too young to see the ‘R’ rated hike through the Black Hills myself, but, I didn’t need to when the phenomenon hit from all sides. The Blair Witch Project was a true viral marketing success, utilizing the power of the internet and word of mouth to hook audiences into what many believed was a true story.
I distinctly remember seeing the surrounding documentary, The Curse Of The Blair Witch on the Sci-Fi channel. Setting up the foundation of the surrounding legends and tales of the titular Witch. A mythos that led to several books, video games and a panned direct sequel, Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. The response was enough that plans for anymore sequels were seemingly halted for good. But now, sixteen years after the last film entry in the franchise, we’re going back into the Black Hills of Maryland with the simply titled Blair Witch.
Perhaps one of the most shocking releases this year, if only because of the secrecy and delivery of this entry in the franchise. Stealthily titled The Woods initially, the project was billed as a brand new tale of terror from the director/writer duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett of You’re Next, The Guest, and V/H/S fame. Only for the bombshell announcement at San Diego Comic-Con that it was in fact a continuation of the landmark film.
Directly linked to the original, the plot follows James Donahue, younger brother to protagonist of the original, Heather Donahue. When strange footage of the house from the first movie is uploaded online, claimed to be from footage found in the Black Hills, James enlists a few of his friends to go into the woods, and see if there are any clues to his sister’s twenty two year long disappearance. Armed with modern, high tech cameras and equipment, will they be able to solve the mysteries of the Blair Witch or vanish like so many before them?
Now, there are many distinct elements and specifics to Blair Witch I feel are better left unsaid. The more blind you are before going in, the better the experience you will have, so this review will be as spoiler free as possible.
To the point; is it scary? This movie gave me nightmares, so hell yes it is scary. The key to its success were on many different fronts. For one, as opposed to Book Of Shadows, Blair Witch returned to the found footage format, but with the addition of today’s modern technology. Go-pros, drones, GPS, and more are used, and make for some unique scenes capturing the weirdness of the woods and the utter despair of the crew. Plus, easier to justify filming everything when the cameras are tiny and can be worn quite easily.
One thing that had been often criticized with the original was the slow pacing bordering on tedious. Several friends even telling me they only made it halfway through before calling it quits! Blair Witch does not suffer from this problem. Once our wayward heroes make it into the woods, audiences will be hooked in, if only to see what will happen next. There are many homages to the famous scares of the original, from the stick figures and noises in the woods, but with plenty of content that adds to the mythos.
It will be debated whether this entry is equal, if even superior to, the original. While I won’t be discussing that today, I will say that it is leaps and bounds a satisfactory horror movie. This is by no means a “remake” or “retread”. While it may walk familiar ground, Blair Witch sprints screaming beyond anything in the mythology that came before it. And with a larger budget, Wingard and Barrett were able to create some frightening scenes that wouldn’t have been possible for TBWP, but thankfully without becoming FX reliant. The tension building is near flawless, and when it hits the breaking point, it breaks hard.
I cannot recommend this enough. Either as fans of the original, or looking for a seriously good scare this Fall, see Blair Witch, opening this Friday, September 16th!