The Blair Witch Project (2016)
PLOT - James, Heather Donahue's younger brother has spent countless years trying to find out what exactly happened to her after her disappearance as well as the mania that followed when her footage was found. Now a college student, he discovers a tape shot in the same exact woods where he believes he spots his sister in the background of it. Believing there might actually be a chance of still finding her out there all these years later he teams up with some friends shooting a film project of their own to see if the legends are really in fact true.
LOWDOWN - I'm sure I'm speaking for many people my age here who clearly remember the cult sensation that happened back in 1999 when The Blair Witch Project came out. A shot on video independent film, that played up the marketing gimmick that this was actually a true story and that the three leads in the film were really missing. I must admit I myself at the tender age of eleven thought this was a real movie until I saw Heather Donahue appear on the Tonight Show the following summer when the Blair Witch phenomena seemed to be everywhere. Taking a page out of classics such as Cannibal Holocaust, or Man Bites Dog. Here this movie played as a real life documentary/found footage film. Very ahead of it's time in one of the very few films that actually executes it well. Sadly the found footage wave hit and it hit hard. Whatever once was scary about these movies are a dime a dozen and really rarely work.
This film was shot on a low budget, with the actors as the actual crew. Here I have to give these filmmakers props. They thought of a cheap way to shoot a horror movie, and became over night success stories. The Blair Witch Project made history for how well it did, and paved the way for so many others. A first of it's kind, sadly due to how popular it was it was spoofed, and spoofed, and spoofed some more. Soon this very creepy well written horror movie became nothing more than a joke. A sequel, showing how crazy and big this film had actually become was released a little too soon, and besides a clever twist just seemed like one other way to milk the money cow. Years passed, and lesser found footage films were made.
I myself loved the original film (even had a poster of it in my bedroom. Bang, 90's kid!), and it took me a re-watch in high school to actually see how unsettling and scary this movie really was. I'm sorry but being in the woods at night is scary shit. I find it scarier than most horror plots, and anytime I do re-watch this movie, which is rare I get scared shitless. Sorry but there are countless moments in this film that still get me. The worst is when the three leads wake up to loud cracking in the middle of the night of branches breaking, or when the tent suddenly starts to move. I'm sorry, but as much as people love to make fun of this movie, it's still scary as HELL. Years passed, and I really never paid this film any further thought besides being in my top three scariest movies I would name. I must admit I did joke about this movie and still die laughing whenever the "same log" scene happens. Well I, along with many other horror fans were highly surprised when we heard that director Adam Wingard pulled a Beyonce by making his newest movie a sequel to the Blair Witch during this summer's comic con when the official trailer was released. Up until then audiences believed this was just a film called The Woods. Mr. Wingard so far has impressed audiences alike with his retro throwbacks with such hits as You're Next and The Guest, two films I loved. I found it a pretty brave move to be making a sequel, most of all to a movie like The Blair Witch. Still, it appeared to be in good hands, and I was really looking forward to it's release.
I stayed away from spoilers, but instantly felt unsure when fans from all over after this past opening weekend claimed this movie felt nothing more than just a living breathing haunted house on screen filled with jump scares and loud noises. No lasting impressions, and didn't hold any magic that the original had. Deciding to say screw it and see the movie for myself I ventured out with a friend last night keeping my expectations low.
Over all thoughts?
Well, right off the bat you can sorta tell it's a Wingard movie (most of all the club scene) the movie tries to be realistic by establishing four close friends, one of which is James, the brother of Heather from the original and how for years he's always held onto hope that she's still alive (...) and has recently been sent a tape via Youtube by two locals that claim they found a tape in the woods that shows footage of the same exact house that his sister was last seen in during her footage from the first film. Determined to go out there and look and try and find some answers he teams up with his friends one of which is filming a project on James and his search for his sister. Yes we all know the story of the original, but the fact that they skimmed over so much, mostly dealing with the past history involving Peter's sister seemed a little rushed for me. Yeah, we know what happened, but in today's day of age no matter how massive the woods are the fact that they are JUST getting around to looking seemed a little far fetched. Also maybe a little deeper character development, maybe even interviewing James and Heather's parents over what happened, or dig into some more realistic theories of James believing how his sister could still be out there. Yes, this is a horror movie and they needed to get things rolling but I felt a little more fleshing out would have done the world of good for these character who actually seemed pretty likable. I loved the character of Peter, and actually found myself liking the group that went out there. There wasn't much time to get to know this small group but Wingard did a great job having us be on their side right from the start.
I know some people didn't like the drone idea but hell, why not? In today's technology it seemed pretty clever. In fact my favorite shots in the whole movie was showing the drone slowly lift off with the characters watching it. Also liked the mini camera that went behind their ears. Cool way to make it seem more in your face, as if the audience was a character themselves. I must admit things didn't take long to get cracking and when it did, man oh man. I still believe less is more. What made the first movie so scary was how settle it was. Right off the bat with this movie the sounds you hear legit feel like fucking the monster from Cloverfield is coming to get them with massive trees falling. Did it take this witch 20+ years to grow or sound this big? I feel had they started off a little slower with noises like cracking in the middle of the night of cries would have built the tension and made this film much scarier. Sadly I hate to say it but this is a jump/pop out movie, something I'm stunned this director did. These type of movies are popcorn movies, enjoyable seeing on the big screen but no lasting impression. I couldn't see getting creeped out or scared once you own it on blu-ray. Some of the scares were eye rolling such as characters standing right there and getting scared when somebody touched their arm so they jump and it feels like the volume in the movie gets turned up to 11. I feel this director was better than this and really had the opportunity to make a truly scary movie and just sorta fell flat. The film had moments, don't get me wrong. Loved the characters waking up to all of those little wooden people. Really liked when it shows what happens when you break one of them. Super creepy seeing gains ones everywhere, or how this time around the witch seems to have cursed the woods so not only are the campers lost and going in circles unable to leave, it seems that time has been messed with as well. It no longer becomes daylight, and seconds can feel like days or even years. Staying with me still? Yeah it sounds confusing but it's actually a clever spooky little plot element they put in there. Not a huge fan, but a good way to deep things scary.
I really didn't like the whole foot infection scene, almost seemed to be in the wrong movie and never truly had a huge payoff. The camera work of course was shaking but so much was happening so fast I feel I need to see this movie again in case I missed anything. Once things get cracking everything happens super fast. Enjoyed the few moments where the director was showing a more human side to these characters (the just breath moment between the two of them, or James believing he sees his sister in the house) I'm sorry but I kept waiting for some huge payoff dealing with Heather. I understand the actress who played her is no longer involved but after all this hype the only time I was on the edge of my seat was during the house scene. I would have KILLED for any connection to do with part one and legit we got zip. Super bummer. Also this witch, she's huge. Liked the few glimpses we got of her but for a few seconds I truly believed I was watching REC instead of a Blair Witch movie. The ending starts off strong but sadly lands flat. I feel they really had a chance for some huge payoff and instead left it much like the original so it's found footage. Really?
So overall as a fan of the first movie I did enjoy this movie for what it was. It was a cool idea that sadly never fully lifted off the way I felt it should have. Still, a fun little jump scare movie to check out in order to get into the spirit of Halloween. If this movie gave us anything it will remind us how good the first movie was. So go check it out and let me know what you thought!
2 1/2 stars!