February 14, 2017

Blair Witch

Adam Wingard, 2016
The original Blair Witch Project seemed to create two camps. One camp was the people who bought into the movie. They were terrified, they admired the innovation involved in making the movie with little resources. This camp probably continues to watch the Found Footage genre and explores what it has to offer. Then there's the other camp. The camp that didn't buy into the original. Didn't have the effect. These people probably complained about all of the shaky cam. They will tell you the original is overrated, a whole lot of nothing. I will say with no hesitation at all that I am in the camp that was totally on board with the original Blair Witch Project. It scared the living shit out of me. I was a sophmore in High School when I saw it in the theater. I happened to live a mile deep in the Connecticut woods at the time. That movie was in my brain for years, made me afraid of those woods. I remember being too freaked out to even step out onto our backyard patio to smoke cigarettes for a while. I am also someone who believes that the found footage genre is a legitimate genre that has provided many other good films (REC, Willow Creek, Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters) - mostly due to the Blair Witch Project inspiring them. That being said, when it was revealed that upcoming movie "The Woods" was actually a secret sequel to the Blair Witch Project, I was certainly excited.

Blair Witch does exactly what a sequel is supposed to do: take the original and build off of it. Expand upon it. This could mean expanding the universe that the original exists in. Which this movie does do. The original Blair Witch Project was known for it's subtlety, it was one of the defining characteristics. This film completely discards all of that subtlety and still manages to create a product that generates real tension and terror. What were faint noises in the woods are now loud bangs with tree limbs collapsing. What was the absense of a real figure but simply your mind playing tricks on you is now a ghastly figure hiding behind a tree that jumps into sight. What was a couple minutes inside a terrifying dilapidated house is now 25 minutes of pure tense horror inside of the same building with absolute chaos unfolding. The film maintains a certain found footage quality without that complete indie feel of the original.

I am not going to sit here and say that Blair Witch is without its flaws. There is a tree-climbing moment that is the modern day equivolent of running into the house with a killer at the front door. The whole forced connection to the original film with having James (James Allen McCune) be original Blair Witch project lead Heather's brother is unecesarry and weak. Why can't it just be a group of curious college students who are shooting a documentary? I would think that if there was a familial connection to the original disappeareance of Heather, they wouldn't want to go back to the very place that she disappeared and expect to find her. After all, its 20 years later. The thread with Ashley having an infection on her foot also seemed unnecessary. But what happens with Talia about halfway through the film with the stick figure was shocking and unforgettable. Wow. One thing that we don't get that would have been really powerful would be a cameo from one of the original cast-mates. Like if we saw Mike or Josh staring at a wall. Or even Heather.

The expectations are so unreasonably high for a sequel to waht is probably the most divisive horror movie ever made that it's impossible for there to be a scenario where this movie blows everyone away and wins over both sides. The skeptics are going to go into this movie and come away unsatisfied just like they were with the orignal. The question is, why would they see the sequel to begin with? They shouldn't. They should move on to something else because the Blair Witch movies are clearly not for them. But for the people who did buy in to the original, they should come away from this feeling satisfied. Because it brings you back to those all too familiar woods. The memories will come back to you. That might not be a good thing. There were actually a couple of minutes during this viewing where I was thinking to myself: "Why the hell am I continuing to do this to myself at this age with horror movies? I don't think I can handle this kind of tension anymore". But I appreciate this sequel having been made. Thank you Adam Wingard. I am just happy I was able to leave those Burkittsville woods when the credits rolled. Blair Witch lies somewhere between Willow Creek and Grave Encounters, and that's not a bad place to be.

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