Blair Witch and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Adam Wingard
Normally I don’t review movies if I haven’t seen the original, but oddly enough I DID see Blair Witch 2 on TV once, so I at least have that going for me. Honestly though, this being a years later sequel to a movie that’s not all that complex (some people get lost in the woods and are killed by a witch or something) means that I’m probably not gonna get lost trying to decipher whatever mythology or legacy this movie is cashing in on. So does this turn out to be a true Blair Witch movie for a new generation (whatever that would entail), or is this another pointless reboot of a series that was firmly a product of its time? Let’s find out!!
The movie takes place almost two decades after the original where a few teenagers went missing in a nearby forest and the only thing found was fragments of video that seemed to imply something spooky must have happened. Now that the brother of one of those teenagers is all grown up, James (James Allen McCune) along with his friends Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) are going into the forest to see if they can find anything and are taking along a local filmmaker Lisa (Callie Hernandez) to document the expedition. Things get a bit off track right away though as some local Blair Witch nuts Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) ,who ALSO discovered some of the original footage, insist on going along with them. It doesn’t take too long for things to get spooky though, and now there’s a studio backing this, there’s a chance we might be able to see whatever it is that’s fucking with them! Can these campers manage to survive whatever curse or magic spell or whatever the hell it is that’s trapped them in the woods? Will James find that his sister is still alive after all these years? Just what is the true source of all this weird stuff that’s going on!?
Fuck this movie. Other than the pointless and gleeful sadism of Eli Roth and his ilk, there’s nothing I hate more in horror movies than shit happening JUST BECAUSE. Oh, I’m sorry. A WITCH DID IT! NOW it makes sense! Fucking hell, am I expected to give a shit what happens when the filmmakers can’t be bothered to establish risks, tension points, objectives, or even a fucking antagonist? What is the Blair Witch? What does it want? What can it do? How does it plan to do it? Where do its powers comes from? Does it have fears or ambitions that are driving its action? I know that in certain horror movies (particularly of the haunted house variety) that a lot of this doesn’t need to be explained to be effective, but there needs to be SOMETHING to hold onto. For example, Ash Williams in Evil Dead could fend off what are ESSENTIALLY ghosts with a shotgun and a locked door which gave us a reason to hope and a reason to invest in his character. There is NOTHING here to establish boundaries which means that there’s no safety or escape for the characters to strive for and it also means that there’s no way for the movie to surprise you because LITERALLY anything can happen without the filmmakers ever having to justify it. The film is well made in certain areas (particularly the sound) and the actors are fine their roles, but it’s in service of a movie that can’t tie it all together into anything meaningful. This movie, as one crappy monarch put it, is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Okay, I probably wouldn’t go with “idiot” because I do genuinely like Adam Wingard as a director (especially when this film’s technical chops are the best part), but I’m willing to give Macbeth a pass on the word choice. That’s a guy who’s seen some shit! Unlike the audiences who go to see this movie.
On top of all that, the found footage gimmick, just like ninety percent of found footage movies, is extraneous and distracting. It’s actually kind of fascinating to watch how many hoops they need to jump through in this movie to keep the gimmick in place as a selling point while also having competent cinematography and a variety of angle to work with. In the film, each of the four main campers (not the two tagalongs) have a Bluetooth headset of sorts that apparently has an HD camera built into them. Okay, fair enough. It’s no stupider than what they did in Halloween Resurrection, and it’s not like in Chronicle where most of the action scenes take place in areas with security cameras. My problem though is that these cameras are SO FUCKING STEADY whenever the scene calls for it, but then it’s waving all over the place whenever something spooky happens to make it FEEL MORE REAL or whatever reason it is for obscuring the special effects. Look, no one’s going to be staring right at someone having an emotional breakdown the way the cinematography here implies, and it feels like cheating to more or less have a tripod shot so that the gimmick doesn’t get in the way of the drama onscreen.
Of course, there’s also the issue of people not putting down their damn cameras in life and death situations as there are at least two traditional handheld ones that are glued to the characters hands so much that it becomes laughable; especially for one character who’s still holding the camera long after… something happens. I won’t spoil it, but there’s a point where one character is so beyond any justification for holding a camera that it’s downright laughable when we see them doing so. There are moments where the found footage angle works, especially in one scene towards the end where a character finds a way to use it to their advantage, but on balance I’d say it drops the ball more often than not. I don’t know how the hell Lisa was expecting to use any of the footage they got here (before the shit really hit the fan), and I’m still trying to figure out what the SUPPOSED EDITOR OF THE COLLECTED FOOTAGE (cuz this is TOTES real bro) was going for. Was this supposed to be a finished product with voice overs and judicious cutting, or were we supposed to get everything that they filmed, even if gluing all that footage together would feel anachronistic and jumpy? Oh who am I kidding? It was probably both!
The big problem though really is the lack of information provided to the audience which gives us no reason to care about the story or the outcome for these characters. It’s like if the Looney Tunes episode Duck Amuck was supposed to be a legitimate horror movie; in that our characters have no control over the situation which means that their actions are pointless. When you get to the point where the fucking witch or whatever it is can stop the rotation of the sun, what the hell is the point of even trying? At any moment, it seems that the witch can cause nature to turn against them, infect them with… I guess a witch viruses, possess and control them, and can flicker in and out of existence just because. Maybe SOME of this is explained in the original movie (I doubt it), but in this movie the threat is so abstract that I wouldn’t be surprised if the witch can just make their head explode or hit them with lightening at any point. Compare this to The Witch from earlier this year which also had a lot of mystery as to what was going on. Why does that one work when this one doesn’t? Well, the witch in that movie felt like a tangible presence. We never quite knew them or the extent of their power, but they existed in our world and it was clear what they were after; not to mention that they weren’t the only source of terror. The Witch explores real fear about our own capacity for evil as much as it’s about something scary out in those woods. Here? I just never got a feel for what the threat was they were up against, and that’s really all the movie has going for it. Throw something in the air sometimes! Make random noises in the dark! Create some sort of pocket dimension that they can’t escape from, or whatever! Why not!? The bad guy is less the Blair Witch as it is the Blair Time Lord. Some of this can be traced back to the found footage gimmick, in that the scares come from the unknown which is only punctuated by the very personal and sometime obscured cinematography, but there’s just no point to any of this and I can’t find a reason to care about what’s going on when all I can do is question why it’s happening and what the motives of the monster is. You don’t ALWAYS need that for these kinds of movies, but their absence is painfully apparent here.
There are good things that I can point out which will hopefully prove I’m not just another ranting jackass. I thought the characters were really solid in here; particularly James and Lisa. James is the one going out there to find his sister, but he also seems to be the most composed of the group, in that he’s trying to remain calm and keep focused on the situation. Things get really bad at points, but he manages to be a rock for the other characters, and it was refreshing to see someone who is CLEARLY afraid still trying to do their best to not let that keep them from thinking clearly. Lisa as well, while not as composed as James, doesn’t let panic get the best of her and she also has one of the better scenes in the movie with the tunnel. That’s a personal phobia of mine (really tight spaces) so it was really effective and I liked the way she handled that situation even though I felt the sequence went a TAD bit too long. Maybe only shave one or two minutes off it so that it doesn’t feel as drawn out, but it’s still a great scene. I also like the drone they brought as it did give the movie an excuse to get some really nice shots and the ambient sound that it makes while flying (I’m assuming it was at least SLIGHTLY altered in post production) did add to the creeping sense of dangers that the captured footage from the drone implied. Speaking of which, sound design as well is top notch, so while I got annoyed that nothing ever freaking happened when they heard spooky noises, the noises themselves were REALLY effective.
There is a good movie that could have been made here, but I get the feeling that they were too in love with the original film and didn’t want to make the same mistake they did with Blair Witch 2 by making it too much of a departure. If they had expanded on the mythology and maybe even focused more on the threat that’s out there rather than use the LESS IS MORE approach (in terms of story because there ARE some showy effects), then this could have been a seriously great film. The talent is there, both in front of and behind the camera, yet all that effort was mostly for naught as the film is at best an inch deep. No great themes, no memorable villain, no hope, no tension. Just a few admittedly well executed jump scares that don’t mean anything by the end. I would definitely suggest skipping it, but I’m probably not the target audience for this, and for that audience it is for it is executed very well. In a year where we got one of the best movies ever made about a witch, this was not the time to try and rehash something that was firmly a product of its time. Maybe ten years ago this would have had a lot more impact, but now it just feels like a polished relic.
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