A video supposedly found in the haunted woods around Burkittsville (now only nominally located in Maryland but actually shot in the well-worn woods of British Columbia every horror fan knows so well by now they’ll never look strange or frightening again) appears on the Net. James (James Allen McCune), the brother of Heather of “vanished in Blair Witch Project” fame, believes he recognizes his sister in a reflection and decides to rope in his best friend Peter (Brandon Scott), Peter’s girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez) to look for any trace of Heather.
At first, James’s project seems rather more organized than the outing of
Heather and her friends but once they are in the woods – taking on Lane (Wes
Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) the people who found the video that incited
the whole thing too – GPS, a cute little drone, and the superior technology of
2014 don’t help them any better than the slightly lower tech did the people
they’ve come looking for.
Adam Wingard’s (as always written by Simon Barrett) new sequel to one of my
favourite horror films of all time is one of those films I wish I liked more
than I actually do. This is not a cynical, unlikeable cash-in, I believe, at
least not from Wingard’s and Barrett’s position (Lionsgate, on the other
The filmmakers harbour obvious love and respect for the original Blair
Witch - though I’m pretty sure they and I would disagree in many
points about what makes it special - yet also are clearly going in with the
intent of not just repeating the film’s beats and ideas. It’s not an attempt at
deconstructing the original as it is one of giving its ideas slight twists while
never outright contradicting any established lore, which isn’t that
difficult when working from a film amongst whose strengths was the mythical
vagueness to much what was going in it and around it.
These new twists are generally clever, and usually well executed, alas they
are to a large degree also going in exactly the direction you’d expect a modern
horror movie to go. The inherent weirdness and semi-professionalism of the
original is replaced by a slick competence that only rarely leaves space to
treat the supernatural as something that feels wrong. Even with one
truly weird turn in its final act, this is a genre film in all the least
interesting ways. So its Blair Witch is a a large monster that’ll only kill you
when you look directly at it, a thing of high concepts easily described to a
Hollywood producer, instead of the thing of folklore and legend that doesn’t
have a clearly definable shape and only vague rules because folklore and legend
are always shifting around cores that are ideas not monsters you can make an
action figure out of.
If you’d rather see Blair Witch Project dragged down into the realms
of the conventional, well-made horror film, this should make you very happy. If,
on the other hand, you’re me, you’ll enjoy the film well enough for the kind of
thing it is but can’t help and ask yourself what exactly the point of the
whole sequel is when it doesn’t do anything with the material its working
off that’s new and exciting, or actually all that frightening.