So far, 2016 has proven to be a fantastic year for horror films with such releases as Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2 and Green Room, among many others. Adding to the excitement of this year’s current hype train is Blair Witch, an official, finally-actually-a-real-sequel sequel to the original Blair Witch Project that came out almost two decades ago. The question is this: is Blair Witch another film to be shown on the Horror Honor Roll wall along with the other fantastic horror films of this year? Well… yes and no.
Certainly, this film gets many things very, very right. You’ve got the set-up (basically the same as the original), where you have a bunch of college kids wandering the woods hoping to find some scares and inevitably getting way more than they bargained for. You’ve got the setting, which reminds us that yes, the woods are still super fuckin’ scary at night. Then y ou’ve got the found-footage style that we’ve all come to expect from this series. It did popularize it, after all.
However, while the premise is still just as spooky as ever – and definitely takes full advantage of its environment and certain cinematographic perks – something about this installment just doesn’t feel, well… daring. The audience knows enough about what the legacy of the Blair Witch entails, in large part because of what a cultural phenomenon the original movie was. So when we get another group of teens to head into the woods towards their inevitable doom, it feels like we already know what’s going to happen.
Of course, like Romeo and Juliet, it’s not about the ending but about how we get there, and that would have been where Blair Witch would have had its time to shine. And yes, there are many glimpses of brilliance throughout the film, enough where I was engaged and engrossed in the terror (the last 20 minutes alone are worth the price of admission). Then there would be moments that would pull me out again. Again, what worked most effectively about the original film – that what we don’t see is much more terrifying than what we do see – has exactly the same application here. The only problem is, without spoiling too much, that that’s not really as big of a priority this time around.
There’s also something to be said about bringing in more characters this time around for the field trip into the woods. The count increases from the first film from three to six, and it’s amazing how much three more people can negatively affect the suspense. Before we only had a trio of characters to connect with, and we not only got to know them better but also got to feel their sense of isolation and terror better. Here, with six different people wandering around adding in their own commentary and/or screams to the mix, it feels cluttered. We really only end up caring about two of the characters – James, whose sister was one of the victims in the first film, and Lisa, who holds the camera in this one – and had we only focused on these two, the tension and suspense could have been even greater. Alas, you’ve gotta up the ante and fit in as many creative deaths as possible somewhere, right?
That being said, it’s hard to mess up the formula. In the end, Blair Witch still ends up being an effectively chilling tale with plenty of genuine scares and suspense. It certainly could have been executed more precisely, but hey, it’s no Book of Shadows.
Blair Witch is a familiar return back into the woods of Burkittsville, and while it may lose some of the daring and unpredictability that made the first film so terrifying, it’s still a cut above your average found-footage fare.