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Friday, September 16, 2016

Sean Kelly

Review: Blair Witch

A group of friends enter the Black Hills Forest to find answers to the disappearances that happened two decades earlier in Blair Witch. As part of her school documentary project, Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is filming the attempt of James (James Allen McCune) to find answers about his sister Heather, who disappeared in the Black Hills Woods back in 1994. Spurred on by a new tape uploaded by Blair Witch conspiracy theorists Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), Lisa and James venture into the woods, accompanied by skeptical friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid). However, it quickly becomes apparent that the legend of the Blair Witch is all too real.

When it was released back in 1999, The Blair Witch Project not only helped to popularize later found footage horror films such as Paranormal Activity, but also practically invented viral marketing, with an internet campaign that spread an elaborate backstory on the Blair Witch, created by filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Any chance of a Blair Witch franchise was supposedly killed by the terribly received cash-in sequel Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows in 2000. However, it turns out that the director/writer team of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (You're Next) were brought on to develop a new Blair Witch film, which was developed in secret under the title of The Woods. It wasn't until a screening at the San Diego ComiCon when the film was officially revealed as a sequel to The Blair Witch Project.

Taking place in May 2014, a full twenty years after the events of the first film, a group of college students enter the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland to find definitive answers about what happened to the three documentary filmmakers that disappeared in 1994. Wingard and Barrett do have a little bit of fun with the fact that this sequel is taking place twenty years later, such as specifically mentioning "memory cards and DV tapes" in the opening text, as well as the fact that everyone has their own GPS-enabled camera. There is even a drone that is used during a few scenes in the film.

A criticism that is often made towards The Blair Witch Project is that it is not at all that scary and nothing really happens. Blair Witch seems to be a response to those critics of the original, since the film essentially becomes a carnival fun house full of loud noises, camera distortions, and attempted jump scares. The problem is I enjoyed the subtle nature of The Blair Witch Project, which was an example of "less is more" horror filmmaking, which slowly builds the horror, right up to the incredibly tense climax. Blair Witch really seems to be trying too hard to scare people, which may work for casual movie-goers, but only ends up annoying someone like me.

I have been a growing fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, since I saw You're Next at TIFF's Midnight Madness five years ago. However, Blair Witch is a deliberate attempt by the duo to cater to the mainstream and while it's a fine enough film, and way superior to Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, at the end of the day Blair Witch is a sequel that nobody asked for and the fact that it is bigger doesn't exactly mean that it is better.

7 / 10 stars
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Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).