Film Fangirl: ‘Blair Witch’ cracks under weight of original

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“Don’t go in the woods” really should be a hard and fast rule for horror movie characters by now.

It’s been 17 years since “The Blair Witch Project” took the world by storm with its lifelike found footage style and became the first film to use the newly-established internet for its marketing campaign; 16 years since “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” the critical and commercial failure of a sequel best forgotten. Now we have “Blair Witch,” both a sequel that wisely ignores “Book of Shadows” and a reawakening of the franchise.

I’d like to tell you “Blair Witch” is good. I’d like to tell you it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. But I would be lying.

“Blair Witch” begins with a young man named James Donahue (James Allen McCune) finding YouTube footage that appears to show his sister Heather, the protagonist of the original film who disappeared while investigating the legend of the Blair Witch. 

Donahue decides to head into the woods outside of Burkittsville, Maryland, in a search for answers along with two of his close friends, two local residents and a film student who plans to make a documentary of Donahue’s mission. 

From there, we’re treated to a nearly beat-for-beat rehash of the original film. Scary sounds heard while camping? Check. Strange stick figures hanging from trees? Check. People disappearing? Check. 

Much of the film is dull and pointless. There is serious a lack of tension, with nearly all of the story beats already expected. Ineffective jump scares poison three-quarters of the film’s running time, with characters repeatedly startling one another in a way a group of friends lost in the woods never would. 

Some visceral moments are slightly interesting, with one character pulling a branch from an infected wound and another literally snapping in half. A subplot of the woods—or the witch—skewing time itself is also intriguing. 

But these points are only bit distractions in a laundry list of unoriginality.

I must give credit, though, to the last fifteen minutes of the film. Claustrophobic, frightening writing and cinematography take the front seat at least, with the few surviving characters struggling to escape a house that has constantly changing dimensions. It’s some of the best horror work I’ve seen in a while and is extremely scary, which is why the uninspired banality of the previous hour and a half is so disappointing. Director Adam Wingard and Screenwriter Simon Barrett, who have worked on such well-received horror films as “You’re Next” and “The Guest,” are so much better than this. 

Don’t waste your time or your money on “Blair Witch,” though I would recommend streaming those last fifteen minutes when you have a chance. If you’re looking for a tension-filled night at the theater, check out “Don’t Breathe” instead. 

Or better yet, watch the original “Blair Witch Project” for a terrifying excursion in the Maryland woods, where the Blair Witch may or may not be waiting for you.

Grade: D+