After the “Ghostbusters” reboot failed to match the precedent set by the original, I had my reservations with the “Blair Witch Project” reboot. The 1999 film pioneered the found footage technique that has lent itself so well to the horror genre. How innovative could the same concept be 17 years later?
Unfortunately, not very. The movie starts with college student James (James Allen McCune, “Shameless”) finding footage on YouTube from his missing sister, Heather from the first movie. After he discovers the video, his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez, “La La Land”) takes on James’s search for his sister as a project for her documentary film class, setting up the plot in a way bound to follow the formula from the first film. They are guided into the town Heather was investigating by the people who posted the video, contemporary locals Lane (Wes Robinson, “State of Affairs”) and Talia (Valorie Curry, “House of Lies”). The earthly pair live in the desolate wilderness and look like a mix of “woke” vegan hipsters and conspiracy theorists who live off the grid. Adding to their alternative vibe is their YouTube channel dedicated to the Blair Witch, driven by their relentless research about her on the far depths of the internet. They add a modern feel to an otherwise unimaginative update.
The gang is joined by James’s friends, accident-prone Ashley (Corbin Reid, “How to Get Away with Murder”) and skeptical Peter (Brandon Scott, “Wreck-It Ralph”), and plunge into the same forest Heather and company did more than a decade ago. They are quickly driven to their wits’ end as their surroundings come after them. While the film pays notable attention to plot development considering its busy cast, it rarely offers something we didn’t already see in the original “Blair Witch.” It tries to subvert easy horror film tropes, but these twists ultimately prove negligible to the plot in the long run. Lane and Talia, however, keep the movie from becoming too predictable by keeping their true nature a mystery to the rest of the characters; whether they actually deserve the authority to lead the group is questionable. Once the idea that they could be bad guys crossed my mind, I second-guessed their every decision, making the resulting action that much more exciting.
The special effects are great, the one aspect in which this modern reboot improved upon the original. The witch’s look isn’t far far from a stereotypical witch, but she’s still disturbing, appearing this time as a towering white demon with a cylindrical body and a menacing scream. She’s always seen from a distance and in the periphery, because she can steal you away if you look directly at her. The crashing trees threatening to kill the young people looking for her and spooky apparitions in her disgustingly squalid house are vividly brought to life. The evil causing the danger may be vaguely defined, but at least it feels palpable.
For a movie that markets itself as psychological horror, the script leaves much to be desired. Too many horror sequences are jump scares, with ominous noises and trees crashing nearby building up to characters popping out of nowhere and scaring one another. While these scares work well to keep the characters (and audience) in suspense and add dramatic tension until the climax, they also make the movie feel like a perpetual letdown.
Despite being a disappointing sequel, “Blair Witch” is an enjoyable movie that goes down easy for the faint of heart. The surreal moments where the witch is allowed to demonstrate her full power are truly unnerving and make the whole thing feel worth it, even when its attempts to build a realistic narrative “on camera” from the beginning feels stale.