Just when you thought it was safe to get lost in the woods again
In my early teen years, I loved roller coasters. At least, I pretended to. There was always part of me that would secretly rather hang out by the water rides and bumper cars than hang upside down while travelling at 70 miles per hour. My experience with roller coasters was always encouraged by others. There’s a male need to not look weak in your middle school days, whether for survival or friendship, and my adolescent self was willing to feel nauseous all day in order keep my peers from laughing at me.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to ride the big rides at Six Flags only to discover that my stomach will no longer tolerate these minor daredevil feats and will rebel at the first sign of inverted movement. The point is that it is easy to lie yourself into all sorts of odd beliefs and just because something was true once doesn’t make it true forever.
The Blair Witch Project was another lie I told myself as a teenager. Without a doubt, I enjoyed the movie at the time. So did many of my friends. It was the film equivalent of a roller coaster, with jump scares and innovative storytelling, a momentary experience that seemed thrilling at the time because of its marketing but quickly lost its potency.
Part of this is due to the glut of copycat films that followed. Found footage became a go-to style for horror after The Blair Witch Project, inspiring film franchises from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S to Cloverfield.
This year’s sequel to The Blair Witch Project, Blair Witch, is just another in a long line of found footage films. It is almost a note for note copy of the original film, outlining the same legend, retreading the same ground, without adding new information or answering any more of the questions raised in the original film.
It’s not a bad film, but an unnecessary one.
Much of what made The Blair Witch Project such an effective film was the innovative marketing scheme. Back in the halcyon days of 1999, audiences were more innocent. The film was one of the first examples of viral marketing and there were some that genuinely wondered if this group of filmmakers was killed by a supernatural force in the woods of Burkettsville, Maryland.
I’d like to say that audiences now are more savvy, less likely to be swayed by wild, unproven claims. Current election polls suggest otherwise. Still, today’s audiences are at least able to recognize that found footage films aren’t secret snuff films. Maybe one day soon we’ll realize that orange billionaires aren’t Presidential material.
Blair Witch continues the story of Heather Donahue and her doomed companions by giving her a brother that is still searching for his lost family member 22 years later.
Someone has uploaded footage to YouTube that is claimed to have been found in the same forest as the original footage from 1999. James Donahue is convinced that the footage shows his sister in a similar structure from the first film and he enlists his own film crew to join him on an expedition to the Black Hills forest to find her.
The film follows the same pattern as the original, with snippets of interviews that reminds us of the legend of the witch and the disappearances that have occurred. As soon as night falls in the woods, strange things begin to happen. Then people start to disappear.
One of the better changes from the original film is the exploration into the passage of time in the woods, which adds a new layer of fear to the storytelling. The time loop aspect enhances the mystery and is a fun addition. However, The Blair Witch Project was frightening more because of what we didn’t see than what we did. Blair Witch shows a bit more.
Also, the sound in the original was especially effective because whatever was stalking the unfortunate lost souls in the woods seemed simultaneously a far distance away and just outside the glow of the flashlights, making it all the more otherworldly. By contrast, Blair Witch is a cacophony of noise. At times, it seems like the witch might just be a wayward tyrannosaurus. This is a very noisy film, which diminishes the intimate dread that accompanied the jumps found in the original film.
Blair Witch is continuing the recent tradition of rebooting franchises by not straying far from the original. Star Wars: The Force Awakens succeed by giving the fans what they wanted. Blair Witch attempts the same, but isn’t quite new enough to warrant being made.