Explaining the Commercial Failure of ‘Blair Witch’
Adam Wingard surprised the world by releasing a new sequel to Ed Sanchez’s game changing film The Blair Witch Project just a few weeks ago. Hardcore genre fans were thrilled, and according to a lot of reviews, quite pleased with the picture. In all honesty, that’s no surprise, as it’s a solid little handi-cam pic with a pretty frenetic pace and a couple impressive performances. It also gave fans what they craved but were denied from the first flick, a look at the titular terror.
But the hardcore support for the film didn’t mean a whole lot, as audiences just weren’t interested in dropping a $20 to check out the movie on the big screen (the film has thus far made $35 million worldwide, which means it comfortably recovered its $5 million budget, even if that number is an underwhelming number). But why? Why weren’t fans compelled to go and see a generally impressive picture that serves as a legit sequel to the 1999 hit?
Maybe we should hit rewind in order to answer that question.
What made Sanchez’s film so successful was the brilliant marketing and promotional campaign. In 1999 people everywhere were talking about the movie that “might be real.” It was promoted as an actual true life tragedy, and given its guerilla style of filming, it felt quite real. In fact, Artisan was so savvy while pushing the flick that they did all they could to refrain from issuing the truth of the matter – that it was always a fictionalized picture, backed up by a brilliantly deceitful public push.
It wasn’t the look of the film, or the cast in the film, or the filmmaker behind the camera that made the movie such a stunning success, it was the mystery of it all. It was the reality that it could actually be real. And Artisan shoved that idea down our throats, which led to more water cooler talk than anyone could have honestly expected.
In the months leading up to July 30th, 1999, everyone was talking about The Blair Witch Project.
In contrast, in the months leading up to September 16th, 2016, no one was talking about Blair Witch. The reason for that should be obvious: no one even knew the movie was headed our way.
Whoever it was, specifically, that decided to keep the production a secret shot themselves in the foot. And why anyone in their right mind would think it wise to execute a polar opposite promotional campaign that we saw from The Blair Witch Project, is beyond me. The Blair Witch Project succeeded, as we mentioned, not because it was the greatest film ever made, but because it gifted one of the greatest marketing campaigns in history. That’s why that movie succeeded. And yet someone thought it a grand idea to keep Blair Witch a total secret.
News flash guys, this is 2016, and the thing that gets the public pumped is the look at the inside of a production. The early pics. The trailers. The advanced behind-the-scenes featurettes. The leaked details. The more the public receives, the more they tend to warm up to a production.
Blair Witch afforded fans virtually none of those things.
Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett (an amazing filmmaking duo, for the record) and some folks at Lionsgate thought the name alone would sell the tickets.
Apparently those guys haven’t read the endless stream of vitriol hurled at The Blair Witch Project.
In 2016 fans are more than happy to bash TBWP (I’m getting tired of typing that full title out!) to no end. And, to be fair to those who felt cheated by the film, I can understand the disappointment, as TBWP is a film that basically lacks a grand finale. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of slowly escalating tension that ends with a muffled pop as opposed to a certified explosion. The finale is a man standing in a corner. That’s it. Now that we’ve got some great found footage films out there, that doesn’t really cut it. If I were one of the younger fans who checked out TBWP after seeing a dozen or so found footage movies, I’d probably feel a little cheated, as well.
I’m not one of those guys. I’m an aging bastard who’s been tuning into the genre with dedication since the mid-80s. I saw The Blair Witch Project on the day it premiered in limited theaters. Back then found footage basically didn’t exist (there were a few projects out there, like the infamous Cannibal Holocaust, but there was no FF subgenre), so everything about the movie was magnetic.
It was an anticlimactic affair, no doubt, but the mystique of the film permeated the theater, and few actually left feeling betrayed.
Blair Witch never had the chance to really resonate with viewers. It was kept a secret, hidden from the masses. No one knew the movie was coming, and that’s precisely what buried the film.
Who wouldn’t want to see an action-packed rendition of The Blair Witch Project?
Those who had nothing tangible at their disposal to generate curiosity and excitement. Those who never knew the movie was on the way. That’s who.
Blair Witch isn’t an amazing slice of celluloid. That said, it’s a big improvement on the original picture and it gives us plenty of everything that was absent from Sanchez’s movie. Everything but the mystery, intrigue and nurtured promotion. That’s too bad, because it was that nurtured promotion, above all else, that set the movie apart from others and lured fans to theaters in flocks.
The secret of Blair Witch is out, and the secret is that you can’t keep a film like this such a secret. You run the risk of killing intrigue before intrigue has a chance to blossom.
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