The woods at night are truly frightening, it’s a primordial fear that has been carried down through the ages since early man first stared out of his cave and listened to the creatures of the night, and this is something horror filmmakers gleefully prey on when they give us their versions of “What goes bump in the night.” In 1999 a low-budget movie called The Blair Witch Project was a prime example of this and not only did it make a shit ton of money it is pretty much responsible for the current glut of found footage movies. Now 17 years later we have another trip into the spooky woods of the Black Hills Forest where another group of intrepid investigators try to unravel the mystery of the Blair Witch.
The first question we must ask is whether this film is a sequel, a remake or a reboot; ostensibly this is a remake as it takes place years after the original with James Donahue (James Allen McCune), the brother of the missing Heather from the first film, looking to find out what happened to his sisters all those years ago. It also could be considered a remake as it basically covers the exact same ground as The Blair Witch Project did all those years ago, with many plot points beat for beat and only adding a few additional elements to avoid plagiarism charges. But mostly it’s a reboot because with the end of the Saw movies, and the Paranormal Activity series has run out of steam, Lionsgate Studios desperately needed a new franchise.
This “sequel” Blair Witch follows James as he brings college student and documentarian hopeful Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), and two friends Peter Jones (Brandon Scott) and Ashley Bennett (Corbin Ried), to the woods surrounding Burkittsville in the hopes of uncovering the truth about what happened to his sister. What has spurred him on is that a local guy named Lane (Wes Robinson) had posted a video that he claims he found in the woods and possibly captures what could be Heather’s last moments in that creepy-ass house. Lane and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry) offer to take the group to where he found the footage but only if they bring them along.
Do you enjoy endlessly long scenes of unlikable characters hiking through the woods, all brought to you via constantly edited shaky-cam shots? If so that this is the film for you, but if you are like me you will be screaming for the Witch to show herself and kill these idiots. The film teases us with originality by showing us that this group is better prepared than Heather was; they have mini-cameras with built-in GPS, mounted surveillance cameras to record their campsite while they sleep, and they have a quad-copter drone to give them an eye in the sky views of their surroundings, but then the GPS immediately fails, the cameras die, and the drone crashes. Where the original film had Heather’s idiot companions throw the map in the river this sequel relies on the powers of the Blair Witch to remove any advantages our heroes had and make no mistake these mechanical failures are due to the Witch because this film is not subtle about showing her powers. And boy does she have powers as this film reveals that the Witch has the ability to manipulate the woods and the very fabric of time itself.
When the group learns Lane has never been this far into the forest, and during their first night that he was also responsible for hanging those creepy stick figures around the camp, he and Talia are sent packing, but then later that night they show up back at the camp claiming that for them, five days have passed, not the one day our core group has experienced, and worse is that it has been actually five “nights” with no sunrise. It was at this moment I finally became invested in the film, an entity with this kind of power opens up all kinds of possibilities, but then it immediately devolved into people running into the darkness screaming in panic and any hope that this film could turn things around vanished.
Why Adam Wingard, director of such fresh and riveting films as Your Next and The Guest, would attach himself to something as tepid and unoriginal as this movie is a bigger mystery than whether the Blair Witch is real or not, in fact, this film has no interest in being a mystery in the vein of the original, though we never get a look at the Witch herself (apparently she is like Medusa and if you see her you die) we do get evil creatures and possessed minions to stalk our heroes on her behalf. I will admit the film does create some moments of suspense, Wingard is a very talented director, but at no point was I invested in any of the characters, and without that, or any vestiges of originality, we are left with a rather pointless affair.
Blair Witch (2016)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Blair Witch is far from the worst of the found footage genre but seeing such a talented director wasting his time on such nonsense is a bigger crime than the final tepid product.