It seems strange to call Blair Witch my most anticipated movie of the year, seeing as how a month ago I didn’t even know it existed. But such is my love for the original, which I saw opening night in a tiny cinema back in 1999. That night, as I lay in bed, I realised that if I was to turn my head and look in the corner of the room, I might just see someone standing there.
That film freaked a lot of people out.
I also saw the sequel, Book of Shadows, opening night, but my memories of that are of the entire cinema roaring with laughter at the stuffed owl that’s thrown through the window. I actually have a grudging admiration for parts of Book of Shadows, but that’s another post entirely.
As for the original, I thought that its power to shock and terrify would diminish over time, as the found footage genre it helped spawn shaky-cammed itself to death. But then I watched it last year with a bunch of friends who had never seen it, and by the end people were literally shrieking and muttering ‘oh god don’t go in there’.
That’s the power of great film-making.
Now we have a new Blair Witch. from the talented guys that gave us You’re Next and The Guest.
It’s fair to say my excitement was at fever pitch. Did the film live up to it?
Not quite. But how could it have done?
What we have here is a film that shows how horror films have changed over the last 15 years or so. Despite being a direct sequel to part 1, it actually plays out like a remake, so similar is the structure. That’s no bad thing. A group of kids go into the woods to make a documentary, get creeped out, lose their way and then the shit hits the fan. End of. Simple. Perfect. Simple.
What separates it though, is the way it has been adapted to suit the changing tastes of the movie going audience. Whereas before we had over an hour of slow burning dread before the dreadful revelations of the climax, modern audiences most likely wouldn’t stand for that. In an age where the entertainment is defined by the disposable 3 minute pop song, the unwatchable fast-cutting of the Summer blockbuster and the dissemination of information through bite-size tweets, the slow burn of Blair Witch Project would be seen as archaic.
And so the film throws several jump scares at us to keep peoples eyes from drifting to the phones in their pockets. Jump scares in which characters manage to noiselessly make their way through thick foliage in the dead of night to frighten characters that have been screaming for them at the top of their lungs for 5 minutes. It’s cheap and it’s annoying. At one point a character even says ‘will people stop doing that!’, but acknowledging the hackneyed technique does not make it any less irritating and lazy.
God I hate bad jump scares.
Luckily, the film shifts into gear for the climax, where it becomes an outrageous fairground spook show ride. It takes cues from several other found footage films, notably [REC], Grave Encounters and As Above, So Below. But seeing as how none of those would exist if it wasn’t for Blair Witch Project, I can’t begrudge the film-makers a bit of borrowing.
Last year, people complained that The Force Awakens was too similar to A New Hope for them to enjoy. I disagreed, feeling that it added enough new characters and twists to stand on its own. With Blair Witch, I wish they had changed things more. There is certainly a few new unexplained supernatural elements involving the stickmen, and we learn that the Blair Witch has the rather lame power to throw tents in the air really high. But how much better would it have been if they had entered the house at about the halfway mark? There’s so much scope for terror in that place, whereas the build up is just so much ‘did you hear that?’ noise-in-the-woods type stuff.
So yeah, it’s fun, it honours the original and it’s never boring, and at the end of the day that’s all that counts. I’ll probably watch it in a year and love it.
Damn those expectations of mine. Damn them all to hell!
OVERALL: 4 paws out of 5