I’m a huge supporter of the found footage subgenre. I’m aware it gets a lot of flack as it is often accused as a cheap tactic to release products for the mere purpose of profitability at the cost of angry attendees. However, there have been many examples that the format could be produce some seriously scary movies, like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and the little seen TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN. Several years ago, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT proved that the less is more approach could be a terrifying experience and forever will be a movie others will be compared to whether you love it or not. While definitely not the first found footage movie, it helped set a mainstream precedent as to what audiences expect or maybe possibly wished they could see. Now it’s 2016, horror has become the mainstream and people want to be scared. BLAIR WITCH acknowledges the advances in technology, providing a movie that feels more like a remake than a sequel and falls into too many cliches we’ve seen since the original.
James is brother to Heather, our lead from the original, and believes that recently surfaced footage on the internet is that of his sister and she might still be in the Black Hills. He convinces his friends to join him in the woods to search for any clues as to what happened, bringing along updated cameras, including a drone that had some promising opportunities that ultimately fall flat. As before, their trip into the woods proves to be not the safest choices as unexplainable sounds wake them up at night and the infamous stick figures start popping up around them.
I was really excited when I saw what kind of devices the new batch of characters were bringing with them as I thought how interesting it would be to see a new era deal with the spooky occurrences caused by the Blair Witch. Their hidden cameras have GPS devices attached and the drone serves as a way to see from a bird’s eye view so getting lost should prove to be impossible. Conveniently, the devices stop working, the flashlights start going out, and the drone can only see so far. In the end, the latest gadgets prove to be of no use.
What made the original so effective was the feeling of hopelessness. That sense of despair and being forever lost taking its toll on how your emotions get heightened brought on a sense that who we were watching were real people. The characters in BLAIR WITCH are paper thin devices we don’t care about or root for. The connection to Heather doesn’t add any more than if we were to just have casual campers venture into the woods. A couple stories about the Blair Witch are thrown in to remind us of what we already know, but feel completely scripted to help a new MTV generation get somewhat familiar if they didn’t care for the original. New additions to the legend are mentioned, not so subtly foreshadowing later events.
The fear of the unknown is what made THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT so scary, ambiguous imagery and events that only make sense to those who pay attention. Did we just hear something? What was it Heather was pointing at with her camera while running and screaming “What the fuck is that?!” The imagination runs wild and their real terror makes you absolutely scared to go back into the woods. BLAIR WITCH feels like it was made by people who were pissed they didn’t see anything and shows us what Heather might have seen. Things are spelled out easily so not much thought from the audience would have to be involved. Sometimes it works and other times you’re reminded that CGI can really take you out of the movie. On top of that, cheap editing techniques that really pissed off those who watched PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 are on full force here. Signal issues with their webcams are utilized to the most to create several jump scares and there’s too many people running up to the camera moments. It really reminds the viewer that we are simply watching a movie instead of being part of a scary experience. What could have a modern take of a cinematic legend ends up blending in the ever growing crowd of found footage films, simply tagging on a familiar name to attract a built in fan base hungry for more.