Photo credit Lionsgate films. Fair use doctrine.

MOVIE REVIEW: Blair Witch (2016)

The Blair Witch Is Back

By Dixielord

In 1999, movie making changed forever. A new subgenre of horror was born, the found footage shay cam film. It ushered in a wave of jiggly screens, bouncing videos and migraine headaches. It was a hit movie, and filmed in a way that way too many people believed it was real. It was The Blair Witch Project. Now, fifteen years later, a sequel is being made.

Okay, it's a second sequel if you count Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which didn’t follow the story line of the first film and may or may not be considered canon depending on which day of the week you ask the creators. But now we have a true sequel, following the storyline of the first film.

The plot of Blair Witch (2016) concerns the brother of Heather (Heather Donahue) from the original film. After scouring the Internet, he finally finds what he believes is evidence to the location of his missing sister.. Gathering a group of friends and video equipment, they trek into the woods in search of Heather. Instead of his sister they find, just like in 1999, the Blair Witch.

Sadly, however, the 2016 version doesn't have much of the magic of the original. Found footage and shaky cam is no longer a novel device but a pain in the ass. Plus, for a POV movie, there are times when you wonder just where the fuck the footage is coming from; there are some shots that are just not possible from one of their headsets. But that's a small nit picky point. I do think the film would have been better to just forget the shaky cam and go with a traditional steady-cam film. Too many times the quick spins were near nausea-inducing, and the dark scenes did little to build suspense.

Which is my biggest qualm with the film. For a movie like this to work, there has to be a build up of tension. The first film, at least for me, managed to build a sense of fear as Heather, Josh, and Mike wandered lost in the woods. When Josh disappeared, we had no clue what happened; in the new film, even with the black outs, we see way too much. We aren't left to wonder if Josh was taken by the witch? Did he just get lost?Kill himself? Here we see the victims dragged away. It's good for a quick jump, but nothing else.

There was also the decision to show the witch. And of course we have to make her creepy and inhuman looking so we can use the CGI budget. So they add to the back story, and now the witch has been hung from a rack so we have a witch that could give Slenderman a boner. To their credit, the witch does look creepy and inhuman and she's limited to a few quick views. So while it's somewhat effective the addition just seems cheap and unnecessary.

A haunting scene from Blair Witch

One of the more haunting scenes in Blair Witch
Photo credit Lionsgate films. Fair use doctrine.

But I wanted to try and review this on its own merits and haven't seen the original since it's first release. So I'm going to try and limit it to what I liked and disliked in this film. The main thing that killed my enjoyment was the pacing. The beginning was just too ungodly slow. Slow isn't always bad. If you are building tension or developing characters, slow can be good. But an hour in I still didn’t feel like I knew anything about these characters. Nothing beyond the stereotypical horror movie tropes anyway. Then once things become strange, they try to build that tension too fast - people disappearing, people reappearing, people getting lost - all in compressed time. Add to it headache inducing camera work and shifting perspectives that went on too long before the pay off.

The Blair Witch is back

The Blair Witch is back!
Photo credit Lionsgate films. Fair use doctrine.

There was also way too much time at the beginning showing the cast goofing off. There was no real reason for this, it didn’t tell us much about the characters and didn't advance the story, It seemed like nothing more than filler to pad out the length.

Once you get close to the end, the action, and tension does finally ramp up. The POV camera works to the films advantage during the chase and hunt through the cabin. The confusion and claustrophobia starts to make the viewer uneasy (and not just in the tummy), but only the cabin scenes had this effect. The filmmakers tried for a claustrophobia-inducing tunnel scene, but it failed pretty miserably for me. The camera shots, from wherever they came from, made the space look too open. Film is all about illusion and those shots broke the illusion. To see claustrophobia done right check out The Descent or Crawl or Die, where you literally feel suffocated.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say, even though it felt like a cheap rip of the end of the original Blair Witch, it did manage to build up my level of dread. There's also the hint that the entire film was some type of paradoxical time loop. Which doesn't really do anything for the film, but it doesn't really detract from it. It's more of an Easter egg than anything else. So let’s call it a push.

So my final verdict? The last 20 minutes or so is serviceable and even scary at times. Sadly it takes way too long to get there and very little tension is built up along the way. It copies a few of the more well known scenes from the original, which is good for a nostalgic “ha”. While casual horror fans might enjoy it, most horror fans will be bored to tears before the action starts. As slow and plodding as the original was, it held me. That's not the case here. I definitely don't see Blair Witch (2016) having anything like the cultural impact of the original. And they didn't even try to convince us it really happened.

The Blair Witch was directed by Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) and stars Callie Hernandez (From Dusk til Dawn:The Series) and James Allen McCune (The Walking Dead). I really wanted to like it but unfortunately I just found it too slow, and the pay off, while not horrible, isn't worth the wait.

4/10 stars

Posted by Allen Alberson

1 comment

My husband will not watch anything with shaky cams. He absolutely hates them. Nice review!

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