Review: Blair Witch

Review: Blair Witch

The central question with any horror film is whether or not it is scary. They usually come with some sort of gimmick that defines their marketing campaign, but the make or break of the viewing experience is whether it puts you in fear. Does it grip your arm and pull your through a torrent of startling images and frightening sounds? For Blair Witch, this criteria was particularly important. Gone are the days when the novelty of its 'found footage' concept would have carried it. Its predecessor, The Blair Witch Project set-off a wave of imitators--with franchises from Paranormal Activity to V/H/S trying to recapture the magic of a film that convinces you what you are watching really happened. Now that audiences are so used to a blurred line, does Blair Witch have enough scares left to leave its audience with chills?

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Picking up years after the events of The Blair Witch ProjectBlair Witch follows James Donahue (played by James Allen McCune), the brother of a young woman who went missing following the events of the first film. After seeing a video uploaded to the internet, he becomes convinced she is still out there somewhere. He enlists his friends to explore the woods with him and see what they can find. 

In an effort to find more information about the video, they visit the brother-sister duo who uploaded it. From there, things definitely start to seem 'off.' The pair ask if they can come along with the group of friends to visit the woods and while the friends are initially reluctant after seeing a large Confederate flag, they eventually agree and the six of them head off into the woods. 

As they get deeper and deeper into the woods, we learn more about the history of the woods. After that, things start to take strange turns, with time lapsing in unusual ways and the group finding themselves walking in circles. Things continue to take darker and darker turns, but James presses forward, determined to get to the bottom of what happened to his sister.

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

An interesting thing has happened recently in television's comedic landscape. Shows like Louie have reduced the 'joke' pace and have gone for a more even tone overall. Likewise, Blair Witch is surprisingly short on 'scares' throughout its buildup. You spend most of the first half of the film just getting to know the characters in innocuous settings. This serves to bond the audience to these characters quite well, but falls somewhat flat when some of the better characters are eliminated early. In the end, we probably end up following the dullest characters to the end, which is a shame.

Another constraint of the film is that if you know anything about it's predecessor, you know that it is unlikely that anyone survives. Watching characters you know are doomed while they don't quite realize it can be amusing, but it can also start to make the film feel like it is moving on rails. Here, you get to the ending via a pretty traditional horror arc, but along the way, the film does just enough to build terror. It doesn't rely on 'jump scares' like some lazier films in the genre. Instead, it relies on its deliberate pacing to give you a sense that things are steadily going to get worse and scarier. It works. By the end, you can't help but feel uncomfortably tense watching these characters with no hope of escape.

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

One thing that does make the film at least somewhat novel is the extent to which it leverages the technological advances that have taken place in the years since its predecessors. Micro-cameras on earpieces and drones replace the camcorders of the 1990s. And while the gadgetry might help it appeal to a younger audience, it never quite feels like a distraction. While undoubtedly slicker, the film still have a raw and visceral feel. There a moments that feel very authentic in a way that amps up the terror. 

While undoubtedly scary, nothing here is so inventive that it warrants raves. Blair Witch is a competent horror film that brings the scares, but doesn't do anything we haven't seen before. People drawn to the franchise name will likely be satisfied, but they may be the only ones. 

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