Reviewing the new horror Blair Witch leads to a lot of conflict, and a lot of that conflict hinges on the most oft-asked question of moviegoers who’ve seen a movie which you yet haven’t: is it good? In order to accurately answer this question, it’s important in this case to determine what you, personally, find to make a “good” film. Or, more importantly in Blair Witch’s case, a “scary” one, since “good” will be defined here as “scary,” generally. So to do that, ask yourself the following questions:
-Do you find unidentifiable noises and/or the dark frightening?
-Are you afraid of the woods at night?
-Would a pile of rocks mysteriously placed outside your tent, while camping, evoke a quantifiable feeling of dread in you?
-How about stick people? That do anything for you? You know, hanging around your campsite?
-Have you seen the original 1999 The Blair Witch Project?
-Did it scare you?
-Would you like to see it again, only made with more money?
You see, the 2016 Blair Witch update is in fact “good.” And, truthfully, it is also “scary.” It’s also, oddly, both a sequel and a remake in that it contains a very light backstory (which strangely requires you to remember a LOT of details about the original film) yet also happens to be, in essence, the same exact film as its predecessor.
The story this time focuses upon six campers — one documentarian, one younger brother of the original film’s disappeared lone female, two skeptical friends and a couple of iffy locals — heading out to get little bro some answers as to what may have happened to his sister lo those sixteen years earlier.
From there, well, it goes just about how you’d expect: kooky night sounds outside the tent, the aforementioned terrifying rock piles and some falling trees. Oh, and this time there’s an enigmatic foot injury which may or may not have something weirder going on and which isn’t really explained in any way.
If all this makes Blair Witch sound unappealing, I don’t mean it to. It’s just that it’s basically what happened the first time around. In its defense, it does work again. It moves slowly and deliberately without showing our villain, like Jaws for the camping set, before ratcheting up the suspense in the third act for a super-spooky grand finale. It’s also a lot better-looking this time around; it’s less grainy with all new types of cameras of recording the action. There’s even a drone involved this time around, but don’t get too attached to it.
Director Adam Wingard, who secretly shot Blair Witch away from the watchful eyes of the internet fandom by disguising the film under the title The Woods for the past year and a half, is a strong director who gives the script as much as anyone could. His last two films, You’re Next and The Guest, were perhaps two of the best respective horror and thriller films of the last five years. The problem is that those movies were clever and tricky, and that same clever trickery never pops up in Blair Witch, even though I guarantee you will keep expecting and hoping it to. It never gets better than simply what it is.
Think of it like this: it’s kind of like watching a movie called The Exorcist Comes Back, and the kid in the new movie is the daughter of the girl from the first movie, and this kid gets possessed and then the cousin of the dogged priest from The Exorcist eventually wrangles a demon out of her. Sure, it’s exciting, but it’s not bringing anything new to the table. Blair Witch will probably incite the same claustrophobic or freaked-out feelings you felt during The Blair Witch Project. So…er…success? I don’t know. Again, does that make it good? Maybe?
Also, Blair Witch has the unfortunate albatross around its neck that The Blair Witch Project, and this can’t really be argued, completely invented the “found footage” style of horror, a style which has been emulated over and over again for the past fifteen years. So it’s hard to duplicate the feelings of fear you had for the first one when you’ve seen 14,000 rip-offs of that same exact film. It just all seems kind of unnecessary. Plus, don’t forget that a lot of us believed, in 1999’s Paleozoic Era of the Internet, that the footage we watched might even be real, a gimmick which could never be replicated again in today’s eagle-eyed web age. So why even tackle it?
I can probably tell you why — because for a new generation, this new film will stir the same feelings it did for those of us who saw it in theaters at the turn of the millennium. In that way, Blair Witch works mightily. It’ll make a ton of money, and you’ll see a bunch of commercials of audiences featuring night-vision shots of people jumping and screaming in the movie theater. Because for what it is, it is a good horror movie. It’s just another Blair Witch Project. Just like the original, it’s frightening, tense and haunting. Unfortunately — and in this age of tepid remakes and underwhelming reboots, this shouldn’t really surprise 2016 audiences at all — it’s sadly nowhere near as inventive and clever as its source material. Unless you’re still afraid of creepy rock piles. In which case, you’d better cover those eyes, bud, because you are IN FOR IT.