Written by: Cody Hiner
Blair Witch tries to catch lightning in a bottle by repeating nearly the same formula of the original found horror hit, and very nearly succeeds. For the sake of this review, I’ll assume you readers have seen The Blair Witch Project, and while it’s certainly not necessary to see before viewing the 2016 sequel, it will give you guys a little more understanding into my few criticisms. Let me say first how pleasantly surprised I was by how good this film was. It’s a little slower than I think it needed to be, at least for the first hour, but the final third of the movie does a fantastic job and racking up the tension and unsettling scares. Let’s dive right in.
The story so far: The movie begins years after the original events of The Blair Witch Project, and tells the story of one of the original characters’ brother and his continuing search to find out what really happened to her. He is joined by some close friends, and they contact a local couple who seems to have a solid clue to start their journey into the woods. We get a glimpse into the motivations and thoughts of the crew that gives us a decent enough background to actually care more about them than the original cast, which is a plus. The meet the couple and are forced to allow them to join their trek into the woods, and soon after the movie begins its upward spiral into madness. I won’t spoil some of the twists completely, but the crew ends up parting ways with the second couple after some information comes to light, and from that point on The Blair Witch pounces. We see more tactics from the Blair Witch in this movie than we ever have before, and the writers made an extremely interesting decision to (SPOILER) include time distortion with some of the characters. When the couple showed back up and said it had been days when to our perception it had actually only been one day, they looked disheveled enough and beaten down, like they had really been put through a lot in the time they had been gone and were just barely hanging on. The idea of time distortion was a really cool thing to add, it really gave a sense of a more powerful supernatural entity at work, instead of a woman in the woods we didn’t get to see than made scary noises at night. The scene where someone snaps one of the Stick and Twine dolls and it breaks a girl in half was particular a “holy shit!” moment that had me smiling and sitting up in my chair. That was a clever use and improvement on the twine figures from the original.
Once the dead start outnumbering the living, the movie is a blast. It’s a roller coaster ride that doesn’t let up more than a couple minutes at a time. I’m very happy to say that pacing isn’t really an issue overall, but I do feel like a little bit more could have been done to add scares in the first half. While I loved the improved twine figures, and the Blair Witch flexing her magic muscles a bit more, this movie did end up recycling almost entirely the setup, found footage cameras, twine figures, and abandoned house in the woods from the first film. It drew heavily and followed the same formula, and while I freely admit they did a great job of improving the horror tropes of it’s predecessor, I daresay that they could have done some good different scary things too. It does forest horror very well, but is it enough as of 2016 to do old genre tropes well? Audiences didn’t seem to think so, as Blair Witch earned less at the box office than the awful Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. It is truly disappointing that Blair Witch was a good movie, and nearly great, but had such a low turnout at the theaters.
My favorite sequence of this film was the final 30 minutes or so. When Lisa enters the house and discovers Lane has been living and occupying the house for what appears to be months, possibly years, I had another “wow, that’s an interesting idea” again. I can say pretty securely that I am not a very claustrophobic person, but when she began crawling through the natural tunnel my skin was crawling, and I nearly had to stand up because I was so anxious. Getting stuck, turning around being an absolute impossibility, and the tunnel seeming to get smaller and smaller just had my stomach in knots the whole time. She made it out and I exhaled consciously for what felt like the first time in several minutes.
The Blair Witch actually makes a few appearances throughout the latter half of the film, and while we don’t get a very clear look at her, what we do see seems almost inhuman. With elongated limbs, her naked formless body is always just out of frame and focus. The last few minutes of the movie shows off another trick that the witch employs – assuming the voice and persona of someone. They repeat several times throughout the movie that anyone that looks at the witch will die, and the last two survivors correctly determine that if they don’t look they’ll be safer. We don’t actually see or hear the Blair Witch impersonating Heather (the original woman in The Blair Witch Project, and whose brother stars in this movie) but we hear James’ side of the conversation, asking if it”s really Heather, and believes it is so he turns around and is taken. This process is repeated for Lisa and closes out the movie.
Blair Witch repeats the cycle first introduced in the original, and improves where it can. It has more relatable characters, some better scares, and a claustrophobic tunnel sequence that nearly had me standing with anxiety. It manages to give us an incredibly solid sequel that the original deserved, but unfortunately was too late for modern audiences to support at the box office. Simply put, it’s been too long since there’s been interest in a Blair Witch movie, and found footage has been oversaturating the genre ever since Paranormal Activity released. I’d be extremely confident betting that if Blair Witch was released instead of Paranormal Activity, we would have seen it be a resounding success that revitalized the franchise. I won’t say that I’m disappointed with the knowledge that we almost definitely won’t see more of the Blair Witch franchise, but I do find it a little unfair that such a solid movie didn’t get the reception I think it deserves. I’m giving this movie a ⅘, and a fond farewell to the franchise. Until next time, I’ll see you guys in the funny papers.