The Blair Witch Project created a genre1 Since its release, found footage horror movies have become as much a part of horror and Halloween viewing as vampires, serial killers, and mediocre sequels. The movie's 1999 marketing, meanwhile, demonstrated the power of the Internet to create phenomena and convince people fantasy was real.
Seventeen years later, and nearly twenty after the original film supposedly took place, the Witch receives a sequel.2
After seeing online footage that suggests Heather Donahue remains alive, somewhere in the Black Hills of Maryland, her much younger brother and his film-school friends head out to find her. Along the way, they team up with the couple who posted the footage.
As you might imagine, the plan does not end well.
Someone will later find their footage, too, scattered around the forest.
The film features better acting and production values than the original, and it ups the ante on found footage. It's 2016; these lost filmmakers have multiple cameras, including a GoPro drone. Hand-held cameras aren't nearly as shaky these days, and you're less likely to experience nausea from the movement while watching.
Despite the changes to film technology and style, the sequel maintains the beats of the original, amplified by Hollywood and lightly mixed with hints of the Ely Kedward's most intriguing descendant, Marble Hornets. The sequel could not hope to match the conceptual purity of the original, but it needed to find some other way to establish itself. To blatant imitation The Blair Witch adds modern special effects, jump scares, and a quasi-visible witch: everything the first film was lauded for avoiding.
And forget suggested horror: this film gives us a (briefly) visible Blair Witch capable of manipulating time and space. The characters quickly find themselves wandering an endless night and finally arriving at a house no one has been able to find in years of searching. When the adversary can do pretty much anything, and you already know everyone or nearly everyone will die, it is hard to feel any real suspense regarding the outcome.
A house-related sequence near the end briefly creates the horror and intensity the film clearly intended to create more often. Otherwise, we have better-quality found footage of hipsters wandering around the forest, under much more extreme circumstances. *SPOILER* Potentially interesting ideas get dropped. A red herring plot suggesting the group's newfound local associates gets dropped a little too quickly, rather than exploited for its potential. *SPOILER*
The Blair Witch, in the end, is neither groundbreaking nor especially scary. It's also not a bad movie, per se: just not terribly interesting. And the last reaction a horror movie wants is a heartfelt "meh."
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
James Allen McCune as James Donahue
Callie Hernandez as Lisa Arlington
Corbin Reid as Ashley
Brandon Scott as Peter
Wes Robinson as Lane
Valorie Curry as Talia
1. A handful of fake found footage horrors predate the original Blair Witch Project, which certainly mainstreamed the genre. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) may be the first, and it also generated publicity by suggesting it consisted of real found footage. Even earlier, Snuff (1975) traded on rumours of "Snuff Films" by including a section that purported to be actual footage of a killing. By all accounts (I have not seen the movie), the scene is not only faked, but badly faked.
2. The original film's lore establishes that something Blair-witchy happens about every twenty years.