Review: Blair Witch

Adam Wingard’s sequel to The Blair Witch Project, entitled Blair Witch, has arrived. I just saw it for the first time yesterday – and I can’t wait to see it again.

When the original film came out in 1999, I was still in high school. I went to the theatre on a school night to see it not knowing what to expect. I emerged from the theatre that night in a state of near-panic. The film had shaken me. I had never seen anything quite like it. It was the first “found-footage” film that I had ever seen, and the first time that I saw it, I could have sworn it was real. As time passed and I came to realize that it was merely an exercise in unbearably tense, low-budget improvisation and that Josh, Mike, and Heather were alive and well, the film still terrified me. It still worked for me as a singular piece of nerve-shredding cinematic artistry. I remember there definitely being a Blair Witch backlash. Some were merely angry because they felt they had been duped. Some found the lack of traditional cheap scares to be unappealing, even “boring”. When the VHS was released soon afterwards, I grabbed one of the first copies that I saw at Wal-Mart. A lady behind me warned, “Put that back down. It’s terrible!” When I revealed to her my undying love of the film, she cut me an awkward glance and walked away.

And then the atrocious Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 happened, and like everyone else at the time, I hated it.

Seventeen years have passed since the release of The Blair Witch Project, and I’m still a fan. Critics still laud it as a modern masterpiece, while most detractors of the film remain unconvinced. But Adam Wingard – the director behind such gems as You’re Next and The Guest – has arrived on the scene and brought us his sequel. From the early moments until the very end, you can tell that this film is a labor of love.

When the film opens, we learn that Heather Donahue’s younger brother, James, has found a video online which hints that his sister may be alive in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland. Immediately, he sets out with three of his friends – Ashley, Paul, and aspiring filmmaker, Lisa – as well as some filming equipment to venture out into those same ominous woods and look for her.

When they arrive in Burkittsville, they meet up with two sketchy locals, Lane and Talia, who are responsible for the aforementioned online video. They end up joining James and his friends on their quest into the forest, and may or may not have ulterior motives. Once the group arrives, it doesn’t take long before things take a turn for the worst. One of the girls suffers a severe foot injury – that results in a deep, pulsating wound – and some of the equipment starts acting up. And when darkness finally comes, that’s when the fun – and the scares – really begin.

blair-witch-2

All of this leads up to a terrifying third act, and with that being said, I really don’t want to say anymore. If you are a fan of the original film – or even if you are new to the Blair Witch franchise – you need to see this film immediately. As I am writing this article, Blair Witch is underperforming at the box office. It has made back its budget of five million, but not nearly as much as the filmmakers undoubtedly anticipated. That’s a shame, because frankly speaking, it’s one of the best horror films of the year. Hell, it’s one of the best films of the year, period. Everything from the clever use of modern technology to capture the footage, to the nods to the original film, to the meticulously crafted film “score”, to the performances – it all works so wonderfully.

Early on in the film, the central characters stay the night in the very same hotel that Josh, Heather, and Mike visited from the original. Once I realized this, I was giddy. I knew that this film was in the right hands. If it had been any other director, it probably wouldn’t have worked. Adam Wingard already has a proven track record, and he has taken great care to remain true to the source material and the mythology behind the Blair Witch. Even the score that Wingard created perfectly fits the material. If you listen to the soundtrack from the original film – entitled “Josh’s Blair Witch Mix” – there is a track called “The Cellar” that plays over the end credits of The Blair Witch Project. It’s an ambient track full of creepy noises, bangs, and claps that gives you the feeling of being trapped in a pitch dark forest in the middle of the night, surrounded by the unknown. The entire soundtrack that Wingard has crafted stays true to the spirit of “The Cellar”. It’s a work of art apart from the film. You can purchase it off of iTunes, and one can only hope that it will get a vinyl release at some point.

As you can tell, I loved this film. Much credit must also go to the excellent cast, including James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry, Corbin Reid, and Wes Robinson. This ensemble of actors is totally committed and does not disappoint.

Do not miss Blair Witch. Go out and see it now, in a darkened theatre. You won’t regret it.

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