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The Blair Witch Is Back

When THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was released in 1999, it became a bona-fide phenomenon. The first-person, handheld style of filmmaking executed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez was unlike anything that mainstream audiences had seen before. np-4With a marketing campaign that gave the illusion that the film was actually comprised of found footage and that stars Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams were still missing in the woods of Burkittsville, MD, it allowed the low-budget production to get under the skin of its terrified viewers, and provide them with a movie-going experience that was unique and memorable.

In the years that have passed since the release of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, there have been countless horror films that have been influenced by the low-budget fright fest. Aside from its innovation, the found footage flick took an intriguing approach to scaring its viewer. This, of course, was the decision NOT to show the antagonist lurking somewhere just beyond the frame. This allowed the imaginations of audiences to run wild, forcing their mind to fill in the gaps.

16 years after the release of the initial PROJECT, BLAIR WITCH serves as the sequel that 2000’s abysmal BOOK OF SHADOWS should have been. After receiving a link for a YouTube video that was uploaded after someone found a tape in the woods of Burkittsville, a young man named James (James McCune) decides to take action. He believes that his sister Heather, who was one of the three subjects in the original BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, could still be alive somewhere, and a haunting image in the video only exacerbates this belief. He sets up a meeting with the person who initially found the tape, and plans on going into the woods to see if he can find his missing sister. His friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) decides to document the search in order to fulfill an obligation for a documentary filmmaking class that she is taking. Their pals Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) agree to come along and aid in the search.

Upon meeting Lane (Wes Robinson) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry), who originally found the tape in question, the entire group journeys deep into the heart of the woods. BLAIR WITCH fills time in much of the same manner as its predecessor, showcasing snippets of their perilous journey through the brush, dense foliage, and streams. Initially, their trek is a lighthearted one, and when they find an open clearing, they set up camp for the evening.

np-1Sometime during the night, the group begins to experience eerie, inexplicable sounds emanating from the darkness. There is a lot of panting, whimpering, and jerky camera movements as the group attempts to discover the source of the fear inducing sounds.

Much of the first half of BLAIR WITCH mirrors the original, which makes it feel a lot more like a remake, and less like a sequel. These moments, while tense, fail to illicit the same sense of impending doom and peril that PROJECT did in 1999. By now, virtually every viewer has seen situations such as  these play out before, and instead of teetering on the verge of spine-tingling terror, passivity sets in.

Admittedly, even in its most uninspired moments, there are a couple “gotcha!” scares that land remarkably well. These were the type of moments that were largely lacking in the original, and offer a satisfactory payoff for those who came looking to have their nerves fried. The effectiveness of these scenes are certainly heightened if you are in a theater with superior surround sound, as it helps create the immersive atmosphere that is vital to the entertainment value of found-footage films such as this.

While I was never bored during BLAIR WITCH, during the first two-thirds I was certainly less than enamored. Having revisited THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT just a few months back, I didn’t really see anything that allowed the sequel to separate itself or deliver any signs of ingenuity. The cameras, including one on a drone and others built into ear pieces, added a modern twist, but other than that, it was noticeably devoid of originality. The performers did their part to cry, scream, bellow, heave and huff at all the right moments, and certainly seemed as if they were scared out of their minds the majority of the time.

np-2Despite my initial feelings, a funny thing happened when the end credits began to roll. I realized with sudden hilarity that I hadn’t moved a muscle during the final 30 minutes or so. From the moment that the dilapidated house featured in the climax of PROJECT was discovered, BLAIR WITCH finally became the terrifying journey I had hoped it would be. Brandishing nightmarish imagery with expert precision, the sequence hammered home the horror in a way that the rest of the film did not. Due to this late flourish of fear, in the end, I happily walked away satisfied and slightly scared. This is more than many in the genre are able to muster, and the reason why BLAIR WITCH will stick with me longer than most.

A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny U.S.A. for allowing me attend this month’s film in their premium, RPX format.

Brian Miller