The Blair Witch Project kickstarted a genre. While there were plenty of found-footage films before it was released in 1999, it was the film that pushed it into the mainstream and horrified a generation. There are few films that are as scary and effective as The Blair Witch Project, even as it was produced for a measly 60,000 dollars, and this is thanks to its subtlety and use of a filmmaking technique that is being used less and less as the years go on: the art of not knowing or seeing. A computer generated monster is just that, but the sound of a twig snapping in the woods is much more than just a sound.
Blair Witch, the long belated sequel to the original film, if you are not counting the very much maligned Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, is an okay found-footage horror film with more than a few inspired, effective scares, but as a Blair Witch sequel, it fails in every conceivable fashion.
Taking place in present day, the film follows James, brother to one of the original victims of the Blair Witch, Heather, who went missing without a trace 17 years prior, and a group of friends who embark on a last ditch search for James’ sister after a mysterious piece of footage is found containing what James thinks to be his sister. The first half hour or so of the film mostly persists of the team preparing for the trek, dialogue between the group of friends, and the meeting of the two people who found the footage. These two end up tagging along as well, which the friends begrudgingly agree to.
The chemistry between the characters is strong and there is nothing to complain about with the performances; it is just a shame that these people weren’t more interesting. These characterizations say “stereotypical horror” all over them and the writing has a lot of trouble trying to get the audience to care for these people. At the end of the day, the possibility of whether they lived or died was irrelevant due to the fact that there is little to grasp on to, albeit, of course, we know the outcome already as it is a “found-footage” movie.
The moment the team makes it into the woods is where things start to get eerie. They make their way deep into the forest and set up camp for the first night only to be awoken by strange noises and what you would expect from a Blair Witch movie, but with a few unexpected and, sadly, unwelcome twists and turns.
The sound design in the film is the most perplexing aspect of my experience with Blair Witch. While the first film limited it to various snaps of twigs and distant rumbling and voices that seem human but not quite. In Blair Witch, the filmmakers decided to incorporate some of the most erratic and disorienting sounds one could ever imagine. It’s not just rustling leaves anymore, Blair Witch is too modern for that. They need high-pitched screams from the dark and deafening roars of what sounds like trees crashing to the ground, which does happen on several occasions. It is as irritating as it is not in the least bit frightening. What about the sound of a falling tree is creepy?
What about any of Blair Witch is creepy? The only few scares it gets are all very reliant on loud noises and things jumping in front of the camera–just another person, more often than not. This is where Blair Witch fails its predecessor entirely. It lacks everything that made the original so unforgettable. There is a scene in The Blair Witch Project where James’ sister Heather is holding the camera to her face where only her eyes are visible and confessing a heartbreaking apology to the two others who accompanied her into the woods. The visual is burned into my mind and the line “I’m scared to close my eyes….I’m scared to open them” is repeated in my head whenever I think of the film. The entirety of Blair Witch does not even come close to the terrifying impact of that one scene, and all the scene possessed were eyes in front of a camera.
It is in Blair Witch’s final act, however, that it really goes off the rails and no longer seems like a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It goes against everything the original stood for, relying on jump scares and showing everything it possibly can to the viewer. Hold a single, very claustrophobic scene taking place within a cobweb covered, underground tunnel barely the height and width for a human body to be snake through, and the rest is what I loathe in many of today’s horror movies. For most of the final moments, as I am sure I was supposed to be shuddering and cowering in fear, peeking through my fingers, I sat, stone-faced, in my seat, the only movement coming from my hand slightly sliding my phone out of my pocket in order to take a peek at how much longer I had to endure this boredom.
1 out of 5