Reviews: if you go down to the woods today… The Blair Witch
Directed by Adam Wingard,
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
A follow up movie to the 1999 surprise-hit, micro-budget, found-footage horror film sees the brother of the original film’s female lead Heather going back into the forest to find his sister. When new footage is found in the forest by two locals, the brother of Heather teams up with a documentary student and two of his friends to go and try find the house where his sister was last seen.
Back in the last century there were not that many found footage horrors, if you can imagine that, and we’re going to have a little history lesson now because some readers may have been too young to see it when the first Blair Witch movie came out, and older readers may have forgotten a bit just what it was like back then. Back in the 90s we here in Ireland and the United Kingdom got American movies about a month or two, if not more, after the film was first released in America. So when The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, it was also a time of limited internets (only so many households had it and even then it was dial-up for most), and the Directors made out through very early online social media that this film was a real documentary, and some of the audiences in America believed them.
There were stories of the film makers being chased from screenings as the people in the auditoriums believed they were exploiting the memories of the lost students, although one wonders how many of those were true and how many hyperbole being used skilfully to increase the allure of the film by word of mouth and reputation. By the time the film got to Ireland we were saturated with the news of how this was a new type of horror movie and the astonishing success of their clever marketing with a tiny budget using the nascent new online media; this micro-budget Indy horror had hit the international news reports. The hype machine was in full effect to exploit this mass-media interest, and I was there on opening night.
When the original came out I, along with a lot of other people, got seasick with the amount of terrible camera work that we had to excuse because of the nature of the filming (handheld, “shaky cam”). Thankfully that is slightly better here in this true sequel to the 1999 film. There was another film in the series years ago, but we don’t talk about Book of Shadows, we just don’t, it’s like that member of the family you just do a strange facial movement for rather than talk about.
The reason for the improvement on the camera front is a hugely increased budget, better cameras, and they have actually listened to feedback. While it’s still a found-footage film you get the feeling that they have learned from the critics to the first film. The young cast are all fine, and one actress looks a lot like Naomi Watts (and yet isn’t Naomi Watts).
It’s a horror movie that creates a feeling and takes the time to build up the tension, with the traditional isolation of the forest, the stalking of the students, and the eventual breakdowns that are bound to happen. The story of finding Heather, the annoying director/presenter from the first film is something I’m conflicted about as I really cannot stand her character, but I understand a brother’s need save their family member and it offers a decent reason for the narrative of this sequel. I understand this not from my own siblings who I would happily lose in a forest or anywhere, but from friends who care about their brothers and sisters.
This year I’ve seen a few-found footage films – Blair Witch really opened the floodgates for that sub-genre, perhaps far too much for some of us, but there are some doing interesting things with this approach. One recent film with a low budget but huge impact which stood out for me is called Webcast, which you should check out (recently reviewed here). A lot of the others are sent off to the memory dump. But Blair Witch gives me hope for a bigger-budgeted horror with a found-footage theme. One the biggest changes to this film from the original is that there is now some kind of time jumping going on as the local investigators into the Blair Witch split from the main group and show up at different times. Also with a larger budget there are creature effects, some nice special effects for attacks, and the cameras are so much better this time around.
If you haven’t seen the first film then you will be lost here. The creepy factor is turned up to almost the highest number, not 11, but at least a 9 or a 10. When the surviving members of the groups find the house things escalate quickly, and you have to pay attention, the film makers need you to use your intelligence at this point to help them shock you.
While not the scariest thing I’ve seen this year it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the found- footage genre and an interesting addition to an Indy movie that came from nowhere to become a global – and influential – success. If nothing else take an easily shocked friend to see this and have a good night out.