When The Blair Witch Project was released in theaters back in 1999 it became a phenomenon. There was nothing else quite like it; a scrappy little film made for next to nothing, featuring no big name stars or a high-profile director attached to it. And yet it went on to gross over $240 million, and inspired a long line of films trying to recreate its magic (the Paranormal Activity films).
Enter the sequel, aptly named Blair Witch. Originally disguised as a film called The Woods featuring a cryptic teaser trailer, the film comes over a decade after the first film (and a much maligned sequel that’s generally ignored here). It seems a little weird that this sequel would come so far after the first film, especially given the original being a product of its time. Much of The Blair Witch Project‘s success is attributed to its marketing campaign, which was revolutionary at the time. An online website was created specifically for the movie, with false “legends” and stories about the fictional Blair Witch being spread far across the internet.
In today’s world, online marketing campaigns are seen as a necessity for a lot of films, especially a film like The Blair Witch; a lot of that magic has disappeared due to to the rise of the internet and social media. Even watching the original film isn’t as magical as it was back in the pre-internet age. Blair Witch doesn’t just set out to continue the legacy of the first film, but recreate some of that magic for a new generation.
Much time has passed since Heather Donahue and her two friends went missing in the mysterious forest north of Burkittsville, Maryland (originally named Blair). The footage they were recording for their documentary has been recovered and picked apart by Heather’s brother James (James Allen McCune), who has been holding out hope that his sister is still alive. Lane, (Wes Robsinson), and Talia (Valorie Curry), have recovered new footage from the woods featuring a woman who Jason insists is his long lost sister. They agree to show James where they found it, in exchange for letting them explore the woods and camp out with James while he searches for his sister. In the spirit of the original film, he sets out to document the experience for his friend Lisa’s (Callie Hernandez) documentary project. Their friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott) decide to join them as well.
What follows is more or less the same exact sequence of events from the original film. The group sets out into the woods, spends the night, sinister things begin to happen, they decide they want to leave but get lost and begin to become increasingly more isolated. There are details to the story that have been modified to fit today’s times, however. The group has access to more technology (Go Pro’s, HD cameras, and even a drone), although this does nothing to change their inevitable fate.
The film’s laziness is what makes it so disappointing; only in the very beginning do they even reference the fact that James is Heather’s sister. In fact, besides it being mentioned a few times, the film really doesn’t even acknowledge that this is James’ sister they’re looking for. It would have been more effective, I think, to have this group of people find the footage, and just go searching for what happened to Heather and her friends. What could have been an interesting plot point to separate it from the original becomes a wasted opportunity; the film is much more interested in trying to recreate the magic of the original. None of the personality or flair that made director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next such a thrill is present here; anyone could have directed this occasionally thrilling, but hollow, film.
There are a lot more scares in this one than in the original; we actually get a glimpse or two at the legendary Blair Witch, and the sound editing is top notch. But aside from that, and one (effective) claustrophobic sequence in the film’s harrowing climax, the film doesn’t amount to much beyond a bunch of scares encased in a familiar exterior. The fact that the film’s inventive “fake film” phase one marketing campaign (which could have been used in the same way the original film did with its promotion) only rubs salt in the wound of the film’s failures further.
Blair Witch is by no means an outright failure, and while it drums up some nostalgia for the original film, this is a story I’m not sure that needed to be told.