Creating an effective follow-up to the 1999 horror milestone that was The Blair Witch Project was never going to be an easy task, and indeed the best forgotten Book of Shadows failed miserably in its attempt, while a planned further sequel from original filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez was doomed to languish in development hell. Enter director-writer dream team Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett with the unexpected Blair Witch. A more faithful sequel than Book of Shadows, it returns to the found footage format, sending another team of documentary makers into the Black Hills Forest to investigate the possibility that Heather Donahue is still alive.
Arming the actors with upgraded tools makes for a stylistically slick affair. Earpiece cameras take us closer to the characters’ experience while removing disorientating shakiness (not to mention easing the ‘drop the damn camera and run’ frustrations that generally come with found footage) and a drone provides aerial shots to literally expand on the picture. Ultimately, this is with some detriment; at times it likens traditional cinematography, which is only underlined by an edit that clearly forgets that this is supposed to be found footage.
As far as the story goes, it is hit-and-miss. Barrett’s previous screenplays have been taut and streamlined efforts, yet Blair Witch is self-conscious about rehashing the original film; a mishmash of ideas take the witch’s influence on the woods to absurd levels, while including a body horror element that feels particularly out of place. A thrilling final act is therefore a pleasant surprise. Strong direction from Wingard creates a palpable sense of terror, complemented by the impressive, meticulously created set piece that is the derelict house. This is not quite enough to completely save the film, but is worth waiting for.
James Allen McCune
DVD & BLU-RAY
23 January 2017