“Remarkably unremarkable”

by Steve Pulaski

Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch shows, if nothing else, that a genre can only go so far before it goes backwards or even circumvents to its humble beginnings. The Blair Witch Project was where all this “found footage” madness started, where films could acceptably look as if someone grabbed a VHS/digital camcorder and choppily filmed and edited their work to assume the characteristics of a student-made film, for lack of a better term. The film itself, however, was revolutionary for horror, and it’s one I continue to admire and find legitimately creepy.

Admittedly, Blair Witch did make me question whether or not I’d appreciate or even admire the original Blair Witch Project if it were made today and released just like any other film. Unlike its inspiration, this new installment doesn’t try to position itself as if it were real. It ends with formal closing credits and features actors and actresses you may indeed recognize from other films. Mix that in with its polished look, even during its sloppiest moments of videography, and only a couple moments of true terror and inspiration, and you have a film that’s very existence is baffling and entire effect is underwhelming at best.

Blair Witch
Directed by
Adam Wingard
James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid
Release Date
16 September 2016
Steve’s Grade: D+

What bothers me the most is why director Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator/writer Simon Barrett would even want to dabble into this kind of thing without injecting it with some sort of nostalgia or subversive trait. Why didn’t Wingard and Barrett take notes from their work on two of the three installments of the anthology horror series V/H/S and give the film a scuzzy, nineties aesthetic that could’ve not only legitimately terrorized but look unlike anything else released today? Why did they resort to making yet another run-of-the-mill found footage flick that features indistinguishable settings and spirits, a band of faceless characters, and rudimentary scares that only succeed in reminding us just how played out this entire formula has been?

And I still claim to be something of a fan of this genre, mind you.

The film revolves around James Donahue’s (James Allen McCune) ongoing quest to find the remains or whereabouts of his sister Heather, who went missing in the Burkittsville, Maryland woods known as “Black Hills” over a decade ago. James gets the assistance of his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to help him in traveling to the famous Black Hills Woods in order to see if they can find any clues as to what force abducted Heather all these years ago. They are guided by Lane and Talia (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry), a couple of locals who agree to guide them in addition to setting up a campground with them over the course of a few days.

To the surprise of no one but them, apparently, it dawns on them that this wasn’t such a great idea, and before-long, they are scrambling for their safety and their lives as the time of day becomes indistinguishable and their navigation increasingly becomes more and more abstract, as in the first film. The ideas of being lost and completely helpless in these woods is far more downplayed in this particular film, maybe because of the aesthetic, maybe because of the general muchness of the genre, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like the same level of suspense in the original film is present in Blair Witch, nor does it even feel close to capturing it.

Blair Witch has one great sequence and it comes near the end and represents pure claustrophobic hell, to a degree I haven’t seen since I watched The Descent. It’s terrifying and exceptionally captured, making the audience feel as if they are being suffocated and held physically helpless in a mushy, dirty pit of humid filth. The rest feels run-of-the-mill, incapable of coming close to even expanding upon the depth and mythology of what the Blair Witch actually is let alone creating a serviceable, effective cheapie in a year that has been fairly successful for horror. Much has been made about how Wingard and company managed to operate in complete secrecy during the course of the production on this film under the fake name “The Woods;” perhaps they should’ve conjured up an entirely different concept too, as this is a remarkably unremarkable entry in Wingard’s strong filmography, which really showed untold potential with 2013’s You’re Next.