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The Blair Witch Project was a touchstone in modern cinema, utilizing internet viral campaigns before they were really a thing. They propelled the found footage genre into mainstream, being the first to truly be considered a phenomenon. No matter one’s opinion of the film and how they experienced it (I saw it on release and didn’t sleep for two nights), the sheen has worn away on the whole genre, despite the seemingly endless releases that duplicate it, has waned. So can be said for the forgettable Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch Project 2 and now this, a direct sequel.
The film takes place 17 years after the original as James Donahue (James Allen McCune), the now grown brother of Heather (from the first film), thinks he’s found a YouTube clip that shows she is still alive. Motivated by the video, he decides it’s time to go into the woods where she disappeared and try to find her, despite the extensive but failed efforts by police and searchers years earlier. He’s joined by friends Peter Jones (Brandon Scott), Ashley Bennett (Corbin Reid), and film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), who naturally wants to film the whole thing for a documentary. This being 2016, one of those cameras is mounted on a remote controlled drone.
Of course, it is the Blair Witch they are really in search of, and while some believe and some don’t at the onset, as they press farther into the woods, it doesn’t take much to get everyone on the same page. These are a strange and dangerous forest and they are not alone.
Directed by Adam Wingard, Blair Witch is precisely what you think and does exactly what you expect. Being a found footage film it is shaky to the point of nausea, and features lots and lots of up close and personal images of terrified and confused young people. That’s the lure of all these kinds of films, and what Wingard (and screenwriter Simon Barrett) understand best is that unlike a comedy whose joke loses laughs the more times it’s done, the jump scare will always work, even if you know it’s coming. It does feature a bit more violence though, but that seems more in line with other topical horror movies than with the lore of this one.
The problem is that Blair Witch does nothing creative nor innovative with the already threadbare premise. It literally follows and repeats the steps of the original, with a few extra players in the mix to play along. The four are joined by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the couple who found the tape and posted it online, hoping to learn more, but they are a source of conflict when trust is broken. Night scenes are a blur of flashlight beams and heavy breathing, and a cacophony of noise that are clearly and overly emphasized, the worst of it being an annoying cracking sound whenever Ashley, who cut her foot crossing a river, experiences pain. It sounds like someone snaps a length of timber every time she steps on it wrong, and it doesn’t makes sense since it’s just a flesh wound and not a broken bone. But of course, it’s more than a wound.
It’s hard to blame Blair Witch for being so bland. The genre itself is a bore at this point and there seems to be nothing more with it that can be considered creative. What’s disappointing is that the plot itself could be interesting but no studio seems willing to explore it beyond the put-kids-in-the-woods-and-terrify-them aspect. There are some strong moments here and Wingard manages to illicit a few well-earned frights, especially in the final act, but it’s still all overly-familiar. If you’ve never seen the original, and I’m betting the studio is counting on that for most of its target audience, there might be something here to satisfy, but for most, this will be forgettable.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry, Brandon Scott