Just when you thought found footage was dead, we’ve come full circle back to where it all started – and it might actually make you shit your pants this time.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Two decades after his sister Heather went missing while shooting a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) discovers a YouTube video that appears to be new footage of her experiences in the woods. His curiosity finally getting the better of him, James convinces his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to meet the uploader of the video and venture into the forest to investigate. Shooting a documentary of their own, they soon begin to regret their inquisitiveness as unsettling occurrences reveal the legend of the Blair Witch to be lamentably true.
Love it or loathe it, The Blair Witch Project has had an astounding impact since it took the world by storm back in 1999. Made on a shoestring budget and marketed as the product of a real event, not fiction, it broke the box office worldwide, popularised the found footage subgenre, and built fear by showing us as little as possible; leaving it up to our imaginations to conjure up the monster lurking in the darkness.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s (You’re Next, The Guest) surprise sequel Blair Witch is, save for the same story beats, almost entirely the opposite. Aware that the original’s guerrilla style, unglamorous techniques and slow pacing just isn’t going to cut it with modern horror audiences, they’ve glossed it up with an abundance of technology and made the scares considerably more frequent and in-your-face. Wingard and Barrett aren’t the least bit concerned with authenticity, or reinventing the wheel, or much of anything really; they’re simply here to do one thing – scare the pants off you.
Our team of amateur filmmakers assembles itself, learns of some of the sinister tales and legends of the Witch, then bravely journeys into the woods. It mirrors the setup of the first, only this time there’s twice as many teens to expend, and thus half the character development. Sadly, these bland kids are copied and pasted directly from the contemporary horror template, and none are given enough time to form any kind of characterisation; they’re simply there to articulate exposition. The familial link to the first film is flimsy and far-fetched, and begs the question of why James would be stupid enough to follow in the footsteps of his sister.
When things first start to go bump in the night, there’s a disheartening amount of cheap jump scares, but soon the threat becomes real and a supreme dread sets in. There’s been sixteen years of evolution in horror since the original and it’s all unleashed here. The sound department must be applauded for their design; this is the most impressively unnerving earful copped from a horror in years.
It’s frustratingly light on explanation, lacks the subtle smarts of its archetype and is a huge deal of substance short of achieving greatness, but it’s hard to complain too much when Blair Witch is what so many of its peers can only pretend to be – genuinely scary.
Blair Witch is available in Australian cinemas from September 15
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films