Blair Witch (2016)

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I have to start my review of Blair Witch, a film that came along under the radar after being given a different title to throw everyone off, with two relevant pieces of information. The first is that I am a fan of BOTH of the previous Blair Witch movies. Admittedly, it’s been some time since I saw Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 but I have spent many years defending it, especially thanks to the way it gave us something quite different, compared to just putting more youngsters in the woods to get lost and scared, and maybe dead. The second thing I should say is that I dislike sequels that start to unnecessarily change aspects of what made the first film so great. Films like The Descent: Part Two. Or, for example, this one.

Blair Witch is, let’s be blunt, a film for those who wanted to enjoy something like The Blair Witch Project without having to use their imaginations. I am NOT saying that anyone who enjoys this has no imagination, so don’t get ready to jump on me yet, but it very much feels like the film was designed that way.

Why is that? Well, the film very much follows the template of the first film, but takes everything up a notch. You get the noises at night. You get the stick figures appearing. The noises are louder, the stick figures are more dangerous. There are more characters to be put in danger. And there’s even a very familiar finale, although it takes up much more screentime than the finale of the first film. This may sound like the recipe for a successful sequel, on paper, but it plays out like a patronising, misguided, attempt to recapture the spirit of a film that you could never really accuse of being in need of any further instalments (wonderful supplementary material and the interestingly unique Book Of Shadows notwithstanding). It was not a film that ever needed to give audiences just more of the same.

Obviously director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett beg to differ, because that’s what they offer up. The end result has been a big success for them, by all accounts, and part of me remains happy for them, because I have a fondness for previous projects that they’ve worked on together. Part of me, however, wants to grab them by their shirt collars and demand to know what the hell they were laying at when they constructed such a by-the-numbers mess.

The cast are all decent enough, with James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, and Valorie Curry all looking appropriately on edge as they get themselves more and more lost in the woods, but the real star here is the movie title. Viewers will know what to expect, which has all been mentioned above, and they get it.

I’ve been quite harsh here, I know, but I’ll also say that there ARE a few good moments throughout. One scare/moment of nastiness occurs about halfway into the movie that left me genuinely impressed, while most of the other scares are easy jump scares, albeit very well done jump scares. There’s also a nice, underdeveloped, plot element that emphasises just how much the woods, or the witch (or both), can manipulate the environment around unfortunate explorers.

I’ll grudgingly admit that, taken as a standalone horror film, this does what it sets out to do. Not everyone will love it, but some will. As a sequel to The Blair Witch Project, however, it is a sloppy mess, misguided at best, and cynically pandering to the lowest common denominator at worst.

Blair Witch is released on Bluray here in the UK on Monday 23rd January. The disc comes with a couple of featurettes, one weighing in with a longer runtime than the main feature, and a commentary from Wingard and Barrett. Even I am still tempted to pick it up, despite my dislike for the actual film.

DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD
WRITER: SIMON BARRETT
STARS: JAMES ALLEN MCCUNE, CALLIE HERNANDEZ, CORBIN REID, BRANDON SCOTT, WES ROBINSON, VALORIE CURRY
RUNTIME: 89 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/CANADA

Film Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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