Halloween horror arrives early as the Blair Witch returns to frighten audiences like it was 1999.
What was old is new again, as the killer urban legend returns to the big screen for a new generation in Blair Witch. For the purposes of this review, I’m pretending Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 NEVER happened, as this movie feels like the spiritual sequel to the groundbreaking original movie.
The Blair Witch still haunts us today because the original movie — as well as this sequel — preys upon the unexplainable things that go bump in the dark. Less is more in the Blair Witch Universe, as the filmmakers leave audiences’ imaginations to deliver the source of the scares. The fright factor is high in this film, as there are many successful jump scares within the final 40 minutes of the movie. The shaky camera effects return as well, but thankfully, for those of us who are prone to motion sickness, it’s not as dizzying as the original.
Much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the nostalgia factor is high in this sequel. That’s a good thing and a bad thing for both movies. Fans of the original space opera and horror film enjoyed similar story treatments in their sequels, but neither received many new plot developments. Fans both cheered and jeered The Force Awakens for those very same reasons, but still showed up in droves to see the movie. Will lightning will strike twice for the Blair Witch franchise or will horror-starved audiences demand a little more originality?
Speaking of time loops, this time around the Blair Witch gets a bit of a backstory, but the overall storyline is still shaky, at best. James (James Allen McCune, who briefly appeared as Jimmy on The Walking Dead) leads a group of college students into Maryland’s Black Hills Forest in hopes of finding his sister, Heather, who disappeared there many years earlier. This story has an implied link to the first Blair Witch movie, although I totally missed it. Unexplained events unfold in the woods as the group discovers they may not be alone within the wilderness.
New technology including GPS equipment, wearable Bluetooth camcorders and a drone helps the investigation feel fresh, but once things inevitably break down and the group dynamic departs, the movie really jumps into a higher gear. The final 40 minutes features non-stop thrills, a few WTF moments and an adrenaline-inducing claustrophobic scene that shouldn’t be wished upon your enemies. Blair Witch culminates in a haunted house filled with an endless number of doors (and as a result, plenty of places to hide), which should ultimately be replicated in escape rooms all around the world.
Are found-footage films dead? The original mystery — Is it real or not? — is no longer believable, but the film’s directors (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez) return, but in a producing capacity this time around. There are some good scares and there are some brutal deaths. Since the debut of The Blair Witch Project, the supernatural genre has flourished, with the first couple of Paranormal Activity films arriving much later onto the scene and doing the found-footage thing better than Blair Witch, but if you knowingly can get past the fact that professional actors are appearing on the screen, the movie is quite enjoyable.