Mark Reviews Movies

Blair Witch


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

MPAA Rating: R (for language, terror and some disturbing images)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 9/16/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 16, 2016

The power of the Thing That Goes Bump in the Night is that it could be anything. Even something that turns out to be nothing is something in that initial, startling moment of realization: There's something out there. The Blair Witch Project not only understood that most primal fear but also exploited it by creating a fake-but-convincing "documentary" about three people who become lost in the woods. The film didn't show anything, but it used the power of suggestion to make us think that the threat in the forest could have been anything.

Blair Witch, the second sequel to that film, sets forth with a likely unintentional but somewhat intriguing conceit: Is the Thing That Goes Bump in the Night still scary if it's possible that we could see it—and from multiple angles? Whereas the first film used two cameras, this entry has a veritable arsenal of them. From cameras that characters wear in their ears to a drone that gives everyone an airborne view of miles of woods, the characters here have come prepared for anything that might show up to scare them. They just forget their basic common sense.

This is one of those horror movies in which every dunderheaded action performed by the characters could have been prevented if any of them had seen a horror movie. Here, we know for certain that these characters have seen at least one horror movie, and they don't even see it as a horror movie in the first place.

This is a world in which The Blair Witch Project is evidence of how three people disappeared in the woods over 20 years ago and were terrorized during their final days. There's no excusing the misguided actions of these new characters, because they know exactly what's in store for them.

The character of central interest is James (James Allen McCune), whose sister was the director of the disastrous documentary. He has spent most of his life trying to find any sign that she may have survived. After seeing a new online video of the mysterious house where the sister was last seen, James enlists the help of his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), another amateur filmmaker, to find out what happened to his older sister.

This is, of course, a bad idea, but at least the makeshift crew, which includes James' longtime friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and Peter's girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), is going to get plenty of coverage. They're joined by Burkittsville locals Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), amateur investigators of the Blair Witch who found the footage that started James on his newest search.

Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett have given themselves two logical but unnecessary challenges. The first, obviously, is the increased number of cameras for the movie crew within the movie. When all of the equipment is presented near the beginning of the story, there's a certain level of anticipation in wondering how Wingard will take advantage of the technological advances in the two decades since the original film.

Instead of finding any meaningful or clever approach, though, the movie simply attempts to recapture the style of the first film. That means there's little left to the imagination, because, whenever a character (stupidly) wanders off into the woods alone, we see every step (In a particularly dumb decision by one character, those steps are up a tree). Wingard doesn't trust the idea of suggestion, so whenever it's time for a character to be picked off by the witch, the soundtrack is filled with a cacophony of booming footsteps, thunderous cracks, and cackling yips. On the flipside, characters who are scared out of their wits suddenly become stealthy ninjas, until the instant they jump into frame to startle one of their buddies. That's when they start screaming and shouting.

The scare techniques are woefully cheap. While there are plenty of odd occurrences here (Tents fly into the air, and those pentagram stick figures turn out to be like voodoo dolls), Wingard and cinematographer Robby Baumgartner don't account for the wild motion of those cameras, which turns most of the key action into an indecipherable blur.

The other challenge comes in expanding the mythology of the witch. This is an error for at least two obvious reasons: 1.) It was never the witch that was scary (One character says the creature is so terrifying that simply looking it kills you—a promise on which the movie is destined to renege), and 2.) the new details, which include something akin to time travel, only serve to complicate material that's already frustrating on multiple levels. As much as Blair Witch attempts to ape the style and mood of its predecessor, its technique is the antithesis of what made that film work.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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