Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Blair Witch (2016)

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 hand…).

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.


Anonymous said...

Endless scenes of characters screaming other characters names ("James! James! JAMES! ... LISA!") while the camera operates in full-on "shaky" mode--is this the pop cultural legacy of The Blair Witch Project?

Without automatically taking a smugly condescending attitude towards Blair Witch just because it is a sequel (or reboot, or remake) of a touchstone film, I still found it to be nearly unwatchable dreck.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I fear that's indeed the original's pop cultural legacy. That, and "I love you, mom, dad. I'm so sorry".

I didn't think it was all that bad, exactly, just such a bland example of US mainstream horror in 2016 I probably would have enjoyed it more if I'd felt it to be quite as bad as you did, if that makes sense?