Blair Witch (2016) – Review

“BLAIR WITCH (2016)”

If there is one film which owes its success to the Internet, it’s The Blair Witch Project. The original film was the first major example of viral marketing, using the Internet to spread the rumor’s that the footage that people were seeing was real, even IMDB having the actors as ‘missing, presumed dead’. In case you are wondering, they are all still alive, and have acted again, at least not in anything major, I think I saw one of them on Jay Leno’s programme. Now, whatever you think of Blair Witch and the effect it has had on horror, creating the POV found footage genre, something I have commented on and displayed my disdain for in the past, you can’t deny the film was a massive success, making back several times its measley budget. The original was directed by David Merrick and Eduard Sanchez whose IMDB page is actually kind of small, they haven’t actually done much since Blair Witch and despite the fact that the studios would always pine for a sequel to the massive hit, they didn’t really want to do one themselves. In fact they even said on record in a Mark kermmode documentary, which is still available on YouTube if you are ever curious, they would rather have someone else come and screw up their idea rather than do it themselves.

Which explains why Book of Shadows, Blair Witch 2 was a complete and utter dog of a movie with some of the worst characters in any horror movie ever and a plot twist which sounds good on paper but really doesn’t make any sense when you really think about it. Plus it doesn’t help the fact that it explained nothing about what is going on in the plot and the link to the original Blair Witch was tenuous at best. That being said, it was made a year later by Hacks. This film is coming out 17 years after the original and it is at least being directed by someone competent, Adam Wingard whose name doesn’t sound too familiar to most people, but he is someone to watch out for because I really liked his last film, the Dan Stevens vehicle ‘The Guest’. I would really recommend you track this down, it has some excellent performances from both Dan Stevens and Michael Monroe and the guy is going to be directing the upcoming Death Note, live action adaptation, so anyone who is curious about the guy in charge of that film, this is a good chance to see how he does directing a horror film.

For the record, I did watch the original Blair Witch Project in preparation for this film, obviously on quite short notice because this film was kept secret for the longest time. It was originally being labelled as ‘The Woods’ before there was a massive reveal at San Diego Comic Con, that it was in fact the new Blair Witch Film and you know what, as much as people like to slam Blair Witch now, you have to remember that it was a massive phenomenon at the time and I can definitely see why, it has kind of held up. What a lot of found footage films seem to forget is that you need to put restraints on their concept otherwise they run into the ground. Blair Witch knows not to show everything, so as a result we feel more of the fear as a result, because we fear the unknown. I will go into more detail about what I liked and disliked about the original Blair Witch later, but needless to say, despite my disdain for found footage gimmick, I think Blair Witch Project got it the most right and one of the few I like a lot.

Plot wise, it is very similar to the previous film, remember Heather from the first film, her younger brother James (played by James Allen McCune) discovers a video on YouTube of what is supposedly footage taken from the woods outside of the town, Burkittsville Maryland which he believes to be his sister. Along with his friend and documentary maker Lisa (played by Callie Hernandez) he sets out with his friends and a couple of local people that put the footage on line, in the hope of finding his sister, but the Blair Witch might not be as gone as first thought.

Ok, I want to talk about some positives for this film to start things off because I actually think there are some good things to talk about.

First, the acting is pretty average across the board. I normally set a section aside for the actors, but I don’t feel like anyone really stood out too much. Compared to the acting I have recently seen in horror films these actors are pretty average. Second, the film is actually competently directed and written for the most part, there are a couple of issues I have with the film, but I will get into them later. As usual I will refrain from any spoilers. My personal opinion, as a whole, the plot is ok. Yes, this is not that bad a film, not as bad as the trailers made it out to be! This one does feel like a spiritual success to the original Blair Witch Project and you can tell that Adam Wingard really payed attention to Blair Witch and did a very good job with the re-creation of it. Even some minor details feel very authentic, including a very good re-creation of the Hotel room that the teenagers spend the night in, which seems identical to the first film and even small details to the Witche’s house, and before you say that is a spoiler, they gave it away in the trailer. You can’t blame me for that one!!

If there is one thing to say about this films negative it was that way too much was given away in the trailer. The film only lasts for 1hr 20mins and the trailer gives too many moments away removing a lot of tension from many scenes. Another major negative is the quote on quote plot twists, there is one that kind of works and another that downright doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. In fact the latter one left me head scratching. That being said, however, while is does feel like it is treading beat for beat a lot of the earlier film, it at least does it in a decent way and they actually updated the film quite well. Granted, not all of it comes into play. There are a lot of different cameras and as a result I do wonder who is editing this footage altogether especially considering there is an early scene where we get some mixed in stop footage as well as footage from the original film’s ending. That being said, however, there are some decent gimmicks this time round. For example, they are not using cameras there is also the POV Ear cameras which give us a real first person view of the film, which reminded me quite heavily of the film ‘Hard Core Henry’ which I saw earlier this year, granted though, I really feel that the POV camera footage really provided some of the best scares for the movie. The real downside to it all is that some of these elements were brought in but never fully realized. For example, there is a drone that is introduced early on but it never really comes back into play later down the line. The other downside is, because the footage feels very edited it ruins a lot of the immersion that the original film had. The original film at least looked like raw footage which held credence to the idea that the footage was real. This one just looks all a bit too polished and choreographed.

The cinematography looks ok and allows for some decent scares, but I thought a lot of the scares looked cheaper this time around, whereas the original had a really slow build up and over time messed with your mind. This one goes to be a much more traditional horror film and whilst it is alright in that department, it comes with a lot of the same issues, including a lot of very stupid moments that get people killed and in fact the larger cast, I believe, is designed purely to have a larger body count this time around to facilitate those moments. There are an incredible amount of jump scares, which frankly of which frankly some are incredibly cheap and a lot of characters acting in ways that no human being ever would in history. The pervious film had no real jump scares and it was all the better for it. You remember when I talked about ‘Lights Out’ in my review of The Purge Election Year and I said what made that film was that the characters seemed intelligent, not so much here, they are not stupid for the most part, with a few exceptions withstanding, but man does this film feel like it is trying a little too hard to scare its audience. I think Adam Wingard has seen a lot of recent POV found footage films and has misunderstood that a lot of what those films have done have not really been to the benefit of those films and he has tried to inject that into Blair Witch and it hasn’t quite worked. That being said, however, there are some decent moments in this film. The mud tunnel scene which has been played in all the trailers is a fairly decently shot scene and has a good amount on tension, plus it was great to see those dolls back up and running and one scene had a very effective scare, plus the witches house kept me on the edge of my seat.

If there is one thing holding this film back it’s a lot of the tricks it tries. Whilst the cinematography is half decent, especially for a found footage film it’s not really perfect, though I would say that a lot of the scenes seem well done and choreographed, though the characters’ reactions to a lot of the scares didn’t seem as authentic this time around. I don’t think the directors have left them in the woods and started making noises in the distance like the last film, plus if they had done so, it wouldn’t have been as effective considering that it has been well publicized in other making of documentaries of the first film that that was one of the tricks used. Also, this film does one thing that the previous one never did, without giving anything away, I will say that this change is really a detriment to the film.

I’m probably making it sound like I really didn’t like this film, but in all honesty, I actually thought the film was ok. Maybe my standards are a bit too low, but it really does to me, seem like there was a lot more love and care put into this film. It didn’t feel like a cash grab which I was expecting it to be. The film makers seem to have done their research and whoever designed the sets for this film did an excellent job. To wrap things up, Blair Witch was a better film than I was expecting. There are some decent scares and some alright cinematography, the acting isn’t too bad, some of the effects are downright good and I daresay it feels like the film makers had a lot of love for the original film and wanted to put their spin on it, which I have got to commend them for. It’s not a perfect sell however, the film does suffer from a plot that has some plot holes and there are a couple of really stupid moments and this film tries to get away with a lot of horror tropes that didn’t benefit the film in the end and were entirely absent from the original Blair Witch for a reason.

Fans of the original should not pass this up. It is actually worth a watch at least once and if you are curious, I would definitely recommend you check it out. I won’t say rush to see it though I suspect it will have a lengthy run and will probably last until Halloween. You might wish to wait until it comes out on Netflix but I will say on any level, it’s definitely worth a watch.

As for the other films I saw this week…
Well it wasn’t as many as I would have liked, due to unforeseen circumstances and the fact that I tried to watch the entire first season of Sword Art Online in a single week!!! By the way, if anyone is wondering what side of the fence I am on, I actually liked the first season of Sword Art online, although I will admit the second half was not as good as the first half, but it didn’t diminish my experience of it overall and I felt really happy by the end of it feel free to dislike it.

I did, however, get to see Enter The Serpent on DVD which I only saw because of its Academy Award nomination and the fact that it has been Mark Kermmode’s favourite film of the year so far and it’s an example of a film which I feel has been competently written and directed, but I didn’t really enjoy it overall. I felt the film was a bit too hard for me, you know that film where you really have to concentrate and have to observe every little detail that is going on to appreciate it. Yes, it is a very taxing film and while I will admit it’s probably better than I am giving it credit for, it’s not a film I want to revisit any time soon. I think there is an audience for this film, I’m just not it.

I also saw Hell or High Water which I felt was a pretty dam good film. The performances across the film are excellent especially from Chris Pine who is giving the best performance of his career to date and I wouldn’t mind seeing him up for Best Actor at the next Oscars. That being said though, I didn’t find this film as enjoyable as other critics and I am not going to rush to revisit it, although I can highly recommend you check it out, because I think again it’s a good film. Special praise should also go to Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges who give amazing performances as well and I would also warn you that it is an incredibly violent film, especially towards the end.

“So what are your thoughts on Blair Witch and any of the films I have mentioned. Do you agree with me? I would really love to hear any comments, remember, I welcome all comments and I will try to reply to as many as I can.”

Time to move on to another film and it’s another 1st for the Axia Film Society. I am going to review a Western. Join me on 30 September where I will be giving my thoughts on the remake of The Magnificent 7.

Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I lost all my credibility in one review, just by saying I like Sword Art Online!!!

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia10th July 2024
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