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.
In what is the first of many homages to the original film, Blair Witch opens with a similar prologue that foreshadows the fate of its characters. (Spoiler Alert: Things don’t go well) Suddenly we are watching footage of James (James Allen McCune) explaining how, when he was 4 years old, his sister Heather disappeared into the woods of Burkittsville Maryland in search of the legendary Blair Witch. After receiving a link to a video on YouTube James believes that his sister may still be alive. Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is a documentary film student with a seemingly endless arsenal of digital cameras who is interested in shooting a James’ search as her next project. Not happy with James’ need to investigate further, childhood friend Peter (Brandon Scott), insists on tagging along and bringing his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid) on the camping trip too.
Arriving in Burkittsville the crack team of reporters meet the locals that sent them the footage. Lane (Wes Robinson) is a creepy millennial who prefers “Old-School” tape camera technology to SD cards. He believes in the legend of the Blair Witch and offers to show James where he found the tape that he uploaded. The catch? Lane insists that he and his purple-haired girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry) get to tag along. Effectively doubling the cast of campers from the original 1999 film, the six college students are soon blazing paths through trees, passing ominous faded signs that read “No trespassing after dark”.
In no time the campers are wandering aimlessly through the forest, circling back on themselves, and arguing on which direction to go. The movie certainly learns from the original’s flaws in the cyclical pacing that all but gave away when bad things were about to happen. After the situation really begins to get out of hand and the hysteria sets in on the group, the fun kicks in. Improving the pacing, there are no intervals of waiting for night to come in order for things to get interesting again. It pretty much becomes all night, all of the time.
The found footage concept in horror has certainly run its course, but props to director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett for attempting as many creative ways to make the conceit work. Where the first film had two Super 8 Cameras as the only means of documentation, this tech savvy group has everything from digital handheld cameras to ear-mounted head pieces to drones. This certainly offers more visual interest in variety of shots but it really pushes credulity that a college student would have a tech package that would give CNN a run for its money. Barrett also cleverly addresses modern technology that would have made the problems in the original film moot.
Upping the ante considerably we get to see far more action and suspense this time around. With more people out in the woods there are more chances for real action to happen. There are lovely cringe-inducing scenes of gore that make the proceedings sanguine. It is also of note that the characters aren’t grating imbeciles that make truly stupid decisions like throwing a map in a river or something. All performances, while not entirely remarkable, are fine.
In the end though, we have seen this before. This is a far more sophisticated version of the exact same story that features updated technology and twice as many victims. With the familiarity of a Jurassic Park through line, we know, without a doubt, that A, B, and C will happen. We know that this group of people will make the poor decision to go out into the woods. We know that they will start to get messed with. We know bad things will go down. And we know that the cameras will, without fail, continue to roll as ridiculous as the idea might seem. Why? Because. That is a Blair Witch movie. We need to believe all these things in order for the story to work. The original film worked in 1999 because of an ingenious internet marketing campaign that made audiences believe the footage was real. Blair Witch suffers an uphill battle getting us to believe that somebody would fall for the same curse, in the same woods, and think anything was going to go differently.