This one's worth skipping.

This one’s worth skipping.

"Stop recording."

“Stop recording… No, seriously, stop.”

Real quick before we begin: I’m probably going to break some eggs when I type this, but as much as I recognize the impact that the first Blair Witch Project had on storytelling and filmmaking, I don’t believe it’s aged especially well. Its “found footage” tropes have been used by countless newer films in the sub-genre, as has its clever use of viral marketing, and alas there is little to the one that started it all besides the fact that it did just that. The imagery is mostly trees, the acting isn’t always great, the ad-libbing can be blatant, and it takes the idea of “less is more” to an extreme where you think “well, that’s true, but something woulda been nice”.

What's the worst that could happen?

What’s the worst that could happen?

Since the film first came out and nevertheless scared the bajeezus out of just about everyone in 1999, the found-footage concept has been milked to death and beyond after such movies as Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield popularized it. There has also been an infamous quasi-sequel to it, known as Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, which was so insanely idiotic and ill-conceived that I’ve probably blasphemed against the original classic by even bringing it up. So let’s move on.

The second attempt at a sequel, a recent release simply titled Blair Witch (kinda like how the follow-up to Rambo III was just called Rambo), is the movie we’re looking at today. If Wizard of Oz can get a continuation four decades after its release, I guess 17 years isn’t too long a wait. Assuming that anyone actually wanted to see a second Blair Witch movie all this time. Either way, much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the fact that we were getting another Blair Witch film was kept in shadows until its release date was near.

The new Blair Witch comes with a modern spin. The shtick is still that it’s composed of eerie footage from lost tapes that someone found and edited together, but its protagonists also make use of iPad cameras, copters and GoPro rigs (which must have made it especially cumbersome to cut all this found footage into the film we see before us). They also look for images of the titular Blair Witch online and in mysterious YouTube clips. It’s videos like these that inspires them to head into the forests of Maryland with equipment a plenty and seek out this enigmatic woman, or creature, or whatever it is (if anything).

The team consists of James, who initiates the operation after seeing images of what appears to be his lost sister in one of the videos, and his close friends Peter, Ashley and Lisa – a film student who knows her way around the tech. They are accompanied by two guides as well, and even though few of these people struck me as engaging and their chemistry felt authentic only at certain times, I appreciate that Adam Wingard cast mostly unknown actors for the sake of just that: authenticity.

blair-witchIf I know my film critics and movie-goers, I know that people will complain that this movie’s a retread of its predecessor in more ways than three, even though it does have some additions that come along with the more modern setting (using so many different types of cameras allows for more varied shots, for example). Somewhat unfortunately, this comes along with a typical, contrived explanation as to why the characters can’t call for help via their smartphones when they predictably become lost and horrific things start happening around them as they lose trust in one another. It would have made sense if they all had the iPhone 8 – Apple’s latest innovation where the ability to make phone calls has been removed so as to improve the phone’s performance and drain more battery life.

Another notable difference is that this one is more in-your-face with its scares. The horror of the original wasn’t so much about supernatural beings as it was about getting lost in an unknown place and hearing inexplicable sounds far away; it was based on fears that are intrinsic to most all human beings. The sequel, on the other hand, makes it sound as if our heroes are being chased by the Smoke Monster from Lost – at least when they’re not busy jumping at nothing and screaming for a bit, not entirely unlike the sort of people who usually attend movies like this in the theater.

But even if you aren’t that squeamish, there may yet be parts of this movie that are effective, claustraphobic and eerie enough for you and your friends to be satisfied. As for me, I feel that this movie couldn’t have come out at a less oppurtune time. Found-footage filmmaking appears to be a rapidly dying trend (finally) and I wouldn’t be surprised if films like The Visit and Paranormal Activity 5 were collectively the last straw for most horror movie fans. Maybe Hollywood should try their hand at making sci-fi horror-mysteries á la 80’s era Spielberg and Carpenter that star little kids who know things that the adults don’t? Those are all the rage now, apparently.

I was torn but I’m going to go with a thumbs-down on this one. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments. If you want to watch it on home video with some friends during a horror movie night, I won’t object. I might suggestively wave around my copy of Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and see if you change your mind, but that’s about it.

NOTE: I know it might look like I’ve altered my tradition and decided to review horror movies in September instead of the more appropriate October (my latest two reviews are Don’t Breathe and Morgan after all, as well as a quickie on the new American Horror Story). I can assure you this is not the case – my next review, in fact, will probably be Kubo and the Two Strings – and that it isn’t my fault people celebrate every holiday a month too early these days.

2.5/5  whatever