Love it or loathe it, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project was a shot in the arm for the flailing horror movie genre while telling the story of three student filmmakers, Heather, Josh and Mike, who disappeared in the Black Hills woods of Burkittsville while shooting a documentary on local legend the Blair Witch. The film being their lost footage which was found a year later.
While it wasn’t the first film to utilise the ‘found footage’ style it was the first to popularise it and we’ve had a slew of such horror movies both good and bad since.
The Blair Witch Project was not only unique in its style of filming but also in its marketing. Directors Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez pushed the film as a real documentary, even going so far as to hide the actors for months so that audiences wouldn’t know. People actually believed the events of the film had really happened. It was genius.
The movie was a box office smash and in 2000 a sequel was released, Blair Witch: Book of Shadows which in turn flopped and then the franchise was shelved only popping up in some novels and comics.
Fast forward to early 2016 and Indie horror darlings Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are garnering a lot of buzz about their upcoming horror film ‘The Woods’ from industry insiders. A teaser trailer was released and genre fans like myself marked their calendars. However, at San Diego Comic Con this summer, fans were treated to a preview viewing and it was revealed to the world that they had actually made another Blair Witch sequel and the buzz was that it was good..TERRIFYINGLY good.
Once again it was a genius marketing move to keep that a secret in today’s age of internet forums and leaks and a worthy addition to the original’s marketing campaign.
Since that reveal, my excitement for the film’s September release was huge, so much so that it was my most anticipated movie of the year. I’m an avid fan of the original movie and with the aforementioned buzz I couldn’t wait to see it so, needless to say, I was first in line at my local cinema this week.
The plot of the newest film is simple: James Donohue, played by James Allen McCune, is the brother of Heather who disappeared 17 years prior in the first movie and he finds a video online – uploaded by local who found it in the woods – that makes him believe it’s his lost sister. Armed up with his friends – played by Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid – and some state-of-the-art recording equipment, including head-cams and even a drone, they travel into the Black Woods to search for her and as you would have it, it isn’t long until all hell breaks loose.
First off, I’ll get this out of the way, Is the movie good? Is it scary? Yes. YES. The movie was everything I wanted as a fan from a Blair Witch sequel. The lead character’s motivations are believable and the overall acting is definitely a plus. The real star of the film however is its sound design. Used to its zenith, the sound design showcases every creepy sound imaginable to keep the audience on edge with impeccable clarity. I jumped more than a few times I’m not ashamed to admit.
The cast, who are largely unknown, are great at having you believe you’re watching a group who, from the start, are dismissive of the legend but as the movie progresses, slowly crumble under the weight of exhaustion and the terrifying supernatural occurrences unfolding around them.
One of the reasons fans love the original movie is the lengths the directors went to to formulating the mythology, the ‘legend’ of the Blair Witch. Wingard and Barrett clearly have a great love for it as they craft amazing scenes with everything from the infamous stick-men to Rustin Parr’s house paying homage. They also enlarge on said mythology, answering some long lingering questions just enough to satisfy longtime fans while offering up new questions which leave us wanting more.
While the movie doesn’t revolutionise the genre like many tout it to, it is a really, REALLY good horror film and the last 20 minutes in particular, in my opinion, deserve to go down in a the annals of horror as some of the most terrifying and pulse-pounding of the genre. One claustrophobic scene in particular towards the end involving a muddy tunnel had me squirming in my seat. There is a certain dependence on jump scares in certain scenes, however this can be forgiven for the sheer sustained tension and fear experienced through the film’s entire runtime.
I highly recommend this film. In the last few months we have been treated to really good horror with Lights Out, The Shallows and Don’t Breathe and now we can add Blair Witch to that list.
Go see it, even if you do find yourself watching from behind your fingers!
5 out of 5 nerds