Film review: Return of the Blair Witch is a terrifying triumph
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Wes Robinson
In 1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s “found-footage”, teenagers-in-the-woods horror The Blair Witch Project became the most successful indie movie of all time.
Seventeen years and one risible sequel later, we have this belated revival of the franchise.
Adam Wingard, director of You’re Next and The Guest, picks up the threads left dangling by the first film, producing a continuation that conveniently overlooks Joe Berlinger’s atrocious Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000).
Blair Witch effectively revisits the shocks of the original, a similar tactic to that employed by J J Abrams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year – rework familiar themes and plot lines to get the fans back on side.
To be fair, this approach largely works here. Clearly enamoured by the original movie, Wingard is a director who understands the mechanics of horror and builds a heart-pounding crescendo that should sate those looking for scares.
Set in the present day, the film follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune), whose sister Heather disappeared all those years ago in Maryland’s mysterious Black Hills woods, as seen in the first film. She was the one, you might recall, who famously snivelled with fear in a close-up shot that was much parodied.
After receiving grainy video evidence that suggests she might still be alive, James resolves to return to the woods and rescue his sibling.
He is accompanied by Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who is documenting his search, friends Peter and Ashley (Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid), and two locals, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), who discovered the footage and are clear believers in the legend of the Blair Witch.
Scripted by Simon Barrett, the film slowly builds atmosphere – as this posse of less-than-happy campers begin to get spooked.
The original film notably sparked the found-footage craze, with the characters documenting their every move with home-video cameras. Wingard stays loyal to this style, updating the idea with the use of earpiece-cams and even a mini-drone, which largely avoids the trap many found-footage films fall into, when the protagonists inexplicably continue filming all the way through terrifying events.
Blair Witch is not perfect, however. Some scenes (the yucky fallout to a leg wound, for example) are set up but never fully developed, meaning the film takes an age to come to life.
Even when it does, in the claustrophobic, cranked-up finale, horror fans might be reminded of Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands (2013) – which concluded with a more effective version of the same idea.
Still, simply by erasing the memories of Berlinger’s shocking attempt to continue the story, this film at least feels much more like the Blair Witch sequel fans have always craved.
Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM