In 1999, The Blair Witch Project changed the face of not only horror, but cinema itself. Whilst not being the first of its kind, it essentially gave birth to a new sub-genre: “found footage”. As the genre has now steadily decreased in quality as well as popularity over the years, it feels apt that we return to its roots.
Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch is both a reimagining and a sequel to the original. It focuses on the brother of prior protagonist Heather, James (James McCune), who sets out to make a documentary that will take us back into the Black Hills Woods to find out what became of his sister.
Extensive searches by police and officials have found no evidence to suggest that a house like the one captured in the original bone-chilling footage exists. The existence of the Blair Witch is once again regarded as nothing more than an eerie local legend.
Horror master H. P. Lovecraft once remarked that it is fear that is mankind’s “strongest emotion”. The strongest of fears is that of the unknown.
It is this fear that makes Blair Witch tick for the most part. It accurately captures the minimalist terror that accompanies the sight of crudely constructed wooden stick figures suspended from trees, and in places has an almost palpable atmosphere of paranoiac dread.
But, in truth, the best way to summarise Blair Witch would be to describe it as the original, but bigger.
It may be a clear reimagining, but at times it feels closer to a beat-for-beat remake more than anything as ambitious or noteworthy as the original.
Every aspect of the original has at least been built on in some way: the film doesn’t focus on a trio, but a group of six; there is not one hand-held camcorder, but several, including GoPro-like POV cameras attached to character’s ears, as well as an aerial drone.
The film’s undoing, however, is that bigger doesn’t always mean better.
Blair Witch boasts a cast twice the size of the original’s, but it feels weighed down by too much going on. Gone is the intimate character study aspect of the original.
Fortunately, the acting across the board is convincing and believable. However, the situations they end up in feel far too scripted and thus lack the realistic atmosphere that made the original just that bit creepier.
The further the film gets from reality, the less scary it becomes. We’ve seen tents rustled in the night, but here they fly up into the sky, before coming crashing down louder, and with more impact than a head-on collision on a motorway.
Worst of all, we see that which should remain unseen. The integrity of the film is undercut; what made the original so effective is debased in favour of a disappointingly cheap jump scare.
In the end, all it comes down to is this: is Blair Witch an effective horror?
It is. It may not be close to the original, nor a renaissance for found footage films, but it more than does the job.