Review - Blair Witch
A group of college students enter the eerie Black Hills forest of the Blair Witch. As the night grows darker, they realise they are not alone, and that the legend is very much real as they experience spine tingling horrors. Sound familiar?
The 2016 Blair Witch brings with it a definite feeling of deja-vu. The 1999 Blair Witch Project was a huge hit and pioneer of the handheld cam horror/found footage film genre. The film followed three amateur film makers, Heather, Michael and Joshua, intent on seeking out the legend of the Blair Witch. They disappeared and all that was retrieved was the footage of their experience. Thankfully, this film is not a remake of the old box office success. The film also kindly ignores the 'cash-grab' sequel Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. However, it is spookily similar to the first one. Same forest. Similar group of scared students. Same amateur filmmaker. Same agenda. Same house. Same signs from the Blair Witch.
There are also a few additions. First, this film is set a few years after the previous footage was found. The last moments of footage is uploaded to YouTube. Because of this, the possibly deluded brother of Heather is sure his sister is still alive, and wants to seek out the house that is seen in the footage. It is in the house where he is certain he will find his sister alive. Sure thing...
Second, along the way the college students decide to visit the people who uploaded the footage to YouTube. They decide they want to come along, however, their agenda is very much more about seeking out the legend, than saving Heather. They turn out to be obsessed with the Blair Witch. So, this time six amateur film makers make their way into the forest they have been warned to stay away from. Third, this film takes into account that technology has massively advanced since the first tape was found. There is GPS, walkie talkies, HD cameras, not only handheld, but the ones you clip on to your ear, and a drone.
All in all, the Blair Witch Project was terrifying, and the Blair Witch is terrifying, period. However, the HD cameras, the drone, it all makes for an experience that misses the raw feel of the grainy footage of its predecessor. Part of what made the first film so stomach churning was the anticipation, subtlety and the lack of jump-scares and the fact that you never actually see the witch. Very few horror films actually achieve making a film scary without showing the demon or ghost. The subtlety is very much gone in this film. It takes into use horrific random noises, sudden sharp cuts and gore. There were snapping twigs, flying tents and weird breaks in time and space. There was an unnecessary raise of violence and gore. The overuse of jump-scares felt unnecessary and took away from the atmosphere of the film. This technique is still scary in its own way, but is perhaps not needed in a story that proved it did not need these kinds of tricks. It can be said that there is a feeling that the film is self-aware of the fact that jump scares are annoying, but in this day and age we are so accustomed to horror film we might become numb to anticipation. One of the characters even acknowledges how annoying jump-scares are.
Although the film mirrors the structure of the first film, you also go further than Heather ever got. You delve a little more deeper into the witch’s universe. Which is terrifying.
After seeing the film I am left with the feeling that I have just seen the first Blair Witch Project again. Same story. Similar people. I am left with the same questions. We don’t know much more about the witch than we did after the first film. But was I scared and had to watch something cheerful before going to sleep? Definitely. So I would say the film did its job.