“What is” will never be as interesting as “what could be.” When a gap in information arises, our imagination will almost always swing across with far more gusto and urgency than necessary. “The Blair Witch Project” is a prime example of this storytelling law at work—partially the result of a shoestring budget. “Blair Witch,” rolling in dough (comparatively speaking), cranks up the volume, rolls out the fancy weather effects and actually shows us a witch, with little impact.
The next in line of the ill-fated family of documentarians, James, discovers a YouTube video of a shaky camera running through a glorified outhouse, in which he thinks he sees his sister’s reflection—Heather, the heroine of the original film. With a gaggle of friends, and the quirky couple who found and uploaded the YouTube video—whose username includes “666”—James makes for the woods in search of his sister, deemed dead for 15 years. As expected, not only do things go bump in night, but they go “boom”, “zap,” “crack” and something between a velociraptor’s mating call and an old woman who’s fallen and can’t get up. Spooky, indeed.
In all honesty, I can’t stand the found-footage genre. Call me crazy, old-fashioned or unenlightened, but I feel like a movie should be somewhat attractive to look at, as opposed to 60 minutes of motion blur and 30 minutes of actual footage. But I found myself to quite enjoy the original “The Blair Witch Project,” partly due to the exploratory angle and its modest realism. I felt like I was watching an actual expedition gone horribly wrong. This new entry feels like another cruddy, airplane horror flick, cranked out from the same sausage maker that will surely produce “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and “Annabelle 2.”
It features the usual suspects: the believer, the cynic, the screamers, the red shirt and the man/woman on a mission. Jump-scares are planted liberally throughout the film, most of which are the result of a another character running up and spooking the one holding the camera, at which time the camera whips over to an extreme close-up of a dirty, agonized face. After the second act kicks in, this happens every five minutes or so. I read that the director, Adam Wingard, would blow an air horn to get the desired effect from his actors. He could have just ditched the witch and left the air horn in—it would have produced the same lazy scare from the audience as it did from the actors.
This film being set in 2014, the found-footage is remarkably good, compared to the first film’s grainy, faded RCA camcorder and 16mm black & white. These kids even have first-person cameras that hug your ear and a drone, which opens up some more creative avenues, photography-wise, for the director to play with. But other than a couple of establishing shots and the gimmick of having the actors constantly looking directly into the screen, as if pleading the audience for some assistance, not much is done with these techniques. However, there is a brief instance where a selfie almost saves the day, which is deviously amusing.
Throwing caution to the wind, “Blair Witch” forfeits its modest roots, instead opting for the “heavy on the bark, light on the bite” fashion of the day. Perhaps, the filmmakers feared that the slow dread built by the original film, in which remarkably little occurs, wouldn’t mesh with the shorter attention spans of today, where constant noise and activity is required to sustain interest. Never forget where you came from, as they say.
2 out of 5 stars