This is a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project, meaning that we’re skipping right past Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – which is good for me since I didn’t see it. And since I thought the original was one of the most over rated things I’d ever laid eyes on, I would have been giving this one a miss as well, but for two things: Adam Wingarde was directing and Simon Barrett was doing the screenplay. This was the team that made You’re Next and The Guest, so I was in. No farther questions.
The original in 1999 was a masterpiece of marketing. With the internet pretty much in its infancy creators Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez spread the idea that their piece of ‘found footage’ (and which started the fad for such) was an actual document and seemingly backed this up with a fake documentary called The Curse of the Blair Witch. They also presented a slightly freaked-out public with staged interviews and fake newspaper reports, amongst other imaginative items.
Along with making it appear that those featured in the footage had indeed disappeared, the whole thing worked astonishingly well and the low-budget film ended up making a fortune.
So, nearly two decades on and with a more cynical and savvy audience ready to poke holes in anything that takes their spoiled-rotten little troll fancy, how did Wingarde and Barrett hope to in any way duplicate that excitement?
Rather ingeniously there was initially no indication that this was a continuation of the franchise at all. Early audiences were under the impression that they were going to see a film called The Woods, when it was in fact the movie at hand. There’s no credit sequence so it must have been rather effective for those original filmgoers when one of the characters asks: “So…what do you think of the stories about the legend of the Blair Witch?”
Quite good, eh?
In the new Blair Witch the same time has passed In the film as for the audience; and so the technology is nearly twenty years on, with the characters carrying dinky little cameras of every description – but with the effective exception of clever use of drone footage – which there wasn’t enough of – this is essentially the same film, with the same gimmicks. If you suffered from motion sickness because of that shaky camera the first time around, nothing much will have changed this time.
James (James Donahue) is the brother of Heather, who disappeared in the woods all those years ago; and with Lisa (Callie Hernandez) and a couple of friends and locals he traipses off to have a look for her, once again confirming my puzzlement at the whole point of camping.
There are the usual mysterious occurrences and the film tries hard, I’ll give it that – but I’m just not sure that there is anywhere left to go with the ‘found footage’ concept. At least not until someone comes up with a really fresh approach to it. And it could happen. Look at how The Cabin in the Woods blew incredible new life into a stale concept. But as much as I liked Wingarde and Barrett’s previous two outings, it doesn’t happen here.
I did like the way that Time and basic physics is messed around with, reminding me somewhat of Keziah Mason in Lovecraft’s short story The Dreams in the Witch House. But let’s be honest, I’m stretching here in order to be nice.
The truth is this: Earlier in the year there was a brilliant, hard-to-categorise debut film from writer and director Robert Eggers called The Witch: A New-England Folktale. I never got around to reviewing it but this was one of my highlights of the film year. I was totally immersed in it; and days later found myself still quite disturbed by the events depicted. I just forgot I was watching a film and believed in it from the first moments. With Blair Witch I never forgot once that I was being manipulated. And that it wasn’t working.
Then again… there were a couple of scenes that made me a bit uneasy – and it must have worked on some level because…
I saw it at the cinema in Oranmore and generally speaking you couldn’t ask for a better venue. Not only is it comfortable but you’re likely to be the only person there. Last night, despite the fact that this was the preview there were two others apart from me – a couple of women in their twenties. And wonder of wonders, they were there to watch the movie and not talk on their phones. In fact, there wasn’t a peep out of them the whole way through.
As the credits roles I settled in as usual to watch them through, expecting the women to file past me.
Not a sound. And as those credits scrawled their way up the screen I began to wonder if I had actually seen anyone come in at all.
Finally…and in complete silence… they left.
But if I had turned around and found no one there, that wouldn’t have been too frigging funny.
No; that wouldn’t have been too funny at all.