By Michael Kaye
Blair Witch 2016 (Review)
Before we get started, there's something I have to address. I'm not reviewing Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows for two reasons. One of them is simply because I don't have the time, but the other reason Good Bad Flicks did such an amazing job with their video "Exploring Blair Witch 2" that nothing else really needs to be said. Seriously, if you thought Suicide Squad reeked of studio interference, watch this video and your mind will be blown. Anyway, we now return to your regularly scheduled program.
The original Blair Witch Project was a very influential film, but its biggest impact on pop culture is the way we market movies. Some of the greatest viral marketing campaigns in recent memory all owe at least a small amount of gratitude to The Blair Witch Project, including its surprise sequel. This year at San Diego Comic Con, Lionsgate pulled the rug out from underneath everyone going to see an early screening of what they thought was Adam Wingard's new found footage film The Woods. Little did they know, that was merely the working title for a passion project he and writer Simon Barrett were working on, a legacy-quel called Blair Witch.
Here's the story. After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his sister's experiences in the demonic woods of the Blair Witch, James and a group of friends head to the forest in search of his lost sibling.
An endearing nickname that I've decided to give this movie is "The Witch Awakens," because for better or worse, this movie "rhymes" quite a bit with the original in terms of the basic skeleton. But in my positives and negatives, I'm going to explain why I love this film more than the original, but also why other people may disagree.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, I like this cast much more than the original. I suppose one similarity the two films share right off the bat is the fact that none of these actors are A-list celebrities, in fact most, if not all of them have done more on TV than they have on the big screen. The ones I liked the most are James Allen McCune as James, the younger brother to Heather from the Blair Witch Project. Although he has a singular motivation for heading into the woods, at least he's still somewhat sympathetic towards the rest of the group. He's accompanied by his friends Peter, Ashley and Lisa, played by Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid and Callie Hernandez, who are making a documentary about James finding his sister in the woods. I'll talk about the writing later, but for now I can safely say that I felt the camaraderie between this group more than Heather, Mike and Josh, who spent way too much time in the original arguing over a goddamn map. Speaking of the map, in place of that are two local residents who join them on their adventure, Lane and Talia, played by Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry. They're weird, but in such a fascinating way.
Let's talk about the writing, which I think was done very well by Simon Barrett. Together with Wingard in the director's chair, these two make a great team, and they know horror like the back of their hands. In hindsight, I'm glad that movie has some distance from the original Blair Witch, because it's allowed technology to advance that'll make the set up more interesting, as well as raise the stakes when shit hits the fan and their tech stop working. Speaking of the tech, it's the very reason why I don't completely hate the found footage subgenre. I like how instead of just one camera, there's like a dozen, ranging from a standard camcorder to these really neat ear cameras that come complete with a GPS. Oh, and they have a drone camera, which allows for some beautiful sweeping shots of the forest. Going back to the characters, as much as I admired the improvised dialogue from the original, The constant fighting did get a little grating. I'm not saying there's none of that here, but maybe it's because they're working off of an actual screenplay that it feels less chaotic.
Once again I have to give a shout out to the sound design, this time done by Jeffrey A. Pitts. Guys, see this movie on the big screen please! It really does make all the difference, and because this one has a bigger budget, they can afford to do a whole lot more, while keeping true to the spirit of the original, which worshipped at the alter of "less is more" in terms of letting the imagination do most of the scaring.
Don't worry, I'm almost done gushing, I just have to acknowledge the cinematographer Robby Baumgartner, who's done some mighty fine camera work on films such as There Will Be Blood and Argo, as well as cinematography for The Guest. I mentioned before those sweeping shots of the woods via the drone, but even some of the simple character moments look great, such as one scene towards the beginning that shows Peter and Lisa hanging out at some nightclub, or any scene with the group huddled up by the campfire.
Now, while I really enjoyed this movie for exactly what it set out to be, I seem to be in somewhat of a minority. I don't make that Force Awakens comparison lightly, that movie has become the golden standard for legacy-quels for better and for worse. Right now we're going to address the "worse."
I have a feeling that the part of the film that will cause the most disagreements is the ending, which seems like it's basically re-enacting the ending of the original. The reason I didn't mind this was because I like these characters better, so seeing them end up in the same situation was fine. But I can tell that most people who didn't like the ending were just disappointed because the first half of the movie did such a good job setting up a few new concepts to the mythology, only to then revert back to basics for the finale, right down to the final shot of the movie.
Blair Witch is a great movie in its own right, but specifically as a legacy-quel, I found it very satisfying. If you didn't even care for the original, don't even bother with this one unless you're that big a fan of Adam Wingard. However, if you are a fan of the original, then you need to rush out and see this ASAP, and also keep an eye out for some fresh new faces like Callie Hernandez in the future.
This is going to be a fun conversation that I can't wait to have. Have you seen Blair Witch, and if so what did you think? Also, what are your favorite found footage movies? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next editorial, which is basically just an excuse to profess my love for The Beatles in Ron Howard's documentary Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years!