** out of ****
In 1999 The Blair Witch Project popularized the “found footage” horror film. Seventeen years later, its new sequel, titled Blair Witch, gives us every reason to say goodbye to the subgenre for squandering its potential.
During my first year of adulthood, I remember seeing the original movie with friends. My poor little sister was denied entrance to the film with the rest of us because I did not qualify as her guardian. Remembering her disappointment left more of an impression on my memory than the movie.
Refusing my teenage sister entrance was some bull that wouldn’t have gone down if we’d seen this experimental horror movie at our local art-house theater, but they had already sold out every show at the beginning of the day! So we were seeing a fake documentary, which had been so successful marketed, that it was playing at major multiplexes all over the country like the one we went to where droves of horror-craving goofballs had been duped into seeing it along with us.
This incredibly low-budget venture was a decent movie, but I remember a lot of people in the audience seeming pretty unhappy with it. Some laughter broke out in reaction to the terrified lead character, prompting an angry patron to scold the hecklers by sarcastically yelling, “Yeah! That’s real funny!” I wondered how many people in the theater had bought in to the internet-buzz claim that the footage was real and what that said about them.
The movie inspired reactions even if they were polarized in regards to the movie’s value. It was a reserved suspense experience lacking the gruesome payoff that so many people desired. I thought it showed admirable restraint leaving everything unseen to haunt imaginations. Its significance as an event film with tremendous influence was something that made its bigger budget 2000 sequel worth ignoring.
Somehow, after so much time between that summer night in 1999, the ‘Member Berries of a Hollywood studio wanting to cash-in on a familiar title in their possession, duped me into seeing the new movie with a small unresponsive audience.
As a sequel (which only acknowledges events from the first film) it’s got an admirable approach comparable to how Aliens managed to expand on everything established in Alien with bigger, louder and more devastating scenarios taking place in an environment from the original.
The plot involves the younger brother of the lead documentarian from the original, who has spent his life obsessed with the disappearance of his sister and the recovered footage that suggested a small New England town’s superstitions of a forest demon to be true.
Recruiting the help of friends working as a crew in devotion to his cause, the obsessed man sets out to explore the wooded area, guided by a couple locals who recently uncovered more video footage suggesting that his sister is still alive.
As the terror begins to ensue, the movie is just as scary as it is annoying. Setting its characters up with an arsenal of modern camera technology, as if going into a cursed forest with multi-angle coverage will make them safer, gives director Adam Wingard more freedom to shoot everything less like a legit documentary and more like a supernatural shaky-cam thriller. It is interesting that as characters are offed, the camera angles become fewer, and the footage more chaotic, but it’s never believable.
The movie still manages to get to a place halfway through, which is so genuinely terrifying, it makes me wish the movie had abandoned all the predictable jump-scares and startle tactics surrounding it. There are some nightmare-like concepts involving time displacement, gruesome body horror and a claustrophobic situation that made me squirm in my seat.
It’s fair to say that this movie delivers on its scares, but without thanks to its chosen style. Fake documentaries are supposed to give a story the opportunity to thrive on major limitations, but for nearly two decades they’ve incorporated the lazy excuses of multiple camera sources and unbelievably brave operators with top-quality lighting and sound that make you wonder why this approach was worth risking the motion sickness of moviegoers.
When leaving the theater, I only took comfort in knowing that its 2016 audience was in no way confused over the film’s authenticity. I suppose there are scarier things in the news.