Directed By: Adam Wingard
“Heather? Is that you?”
How do you follow up one of the biggest cultural phenomenons ever? Wel, it helps that it’s already had one much-maligned sequel, making your job easier. As long as you’re good enough, you’ll always come second. But audiences in 2016 are different from those in 1998 so sometimes you have to go bigger.
Bigger isn’t always better of course which is perhaps why this didn’t make much of a dent with critics or at the box officer. However, this is my second viewing and I enjoyed it a lot more this time around. Perhaps it’s just altered expectations or I’m more easily pleased I don’t know. I can’t say exactly what I was expecting the first time I saw this, maybe it’s because I was such a fan of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s previous collaborations of You’re Next and The Guest. This tries to go for broader and more elaborate and I think what put most people off was that it isn’t what they expect when they think of The Blair Witch Project. If it wasn’t for some deep dives into Blair Witch lore (Which I am all about) then you could easily mistake this movie for any other found-footage flick.
I can see the problem they were facing. You can’t just do the same thing again because what’s the point? So either you go the other way entirely like Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (Which most people do not like but I think is unfairly maligned) or you take the original and try to put a different spin on it. I’ll say that for the most part it works for me. It has body horror, jump scares and occasionally a WTF factor (Any guesses what those lights were outside the house?) but what it does lack is the slow creeping dread you get in the first movie.
Again, that’s just something you can’t replicate. This is very much modern day and modern day technology including hi-def cameras and drones, but the problem is that the movie doesn’t really do anything with that. There’s a neat scene where they put the drone up, only to see that it’s miles of forest around them but that’s it. All the extra technology really means is that they can frame things more conventionally (And in widescreen) which means it has that problem of ‘Why is this found footage?’ that plagues a lot of movies in the genre, particularly because in this case so much of the movie looks so clean and crisp.
What I do like are the performances. Sure there are no award winners but they’re a likeable cast who can portray being freaked out without descending into parody. It must’ve been hard to not have the first movie in mind when you’re acting in something like this particularly when you’re echoing situations from the first movie.
Indeed, the witch is altogether meaner this time around and has a few new tricks up its (her?) sleeve. It tears up trees, snaps bodies in half and generally fucks with people in pretty horrific ways. She also does that thing where people lose track of time, or where they set off to find an exit but end up right back where they’ve started* but I’ve noticed that’s happening a lot recently. It’s a cheap and easy scare and I think we need to find a new way of doing it.
*One of my favourite examples of this is in Grave Encounters 2.
It’s a shame that Wingard and Barrett won’t get to make the sequel to this that they wanted. I have a feeling that, freed of the tethers to the original, they could’ve turned in something really special As it is, we’ll always have this one. Just approach it with an open mind and you might be pleasantly surprised.