Review: The Blair Witch Project has been a phenomenon since it was released in 1999. The sleeper-hit popularizes a filming technique into what we now know as found footage into a brand new level; and more, it broke the relatively newborn internet with what we now know (again) as viral marketing. Dedicating all the sources the filmmakers could have into making a series of proof and evidence that leads to hype and word of mouth about the authenticity of the event depicted by the film.
I have never been a part of that shocked society and lurked into the film’s mysticism until nearly a decade later. I’ve never been a fan of The Blair Witch Project after all. It wasn’t scary, but it knows how to craft suspense and horror elements into a frustrating piece of terrors culminating in the last scene.
Nearly 17 years since the phenomena, talented filmmaker, Adam Wingard and his collaborator, Simon Barrett, present a movie, which looks like it’s influenced by that, code-named The Woods. But, who would have thought it’s only a diversion? It’s a false alarm. Lionsgate finally announced that Wingard’s movie is a straight sequel to The Blair Witch Project elegantly entitled Blair Witch.
What they do was a complete opposite of how the predecessor did the marketing. In 1999, they built curiosity and expectation through a more straight-up and leading approach, which finally swallowed up naive minds of early-year netizens. Meanwhile, Blair Witch seems to restrain and conceal its true nature until only 2 months prior to the release. Whether the marketing time isn’t confident enough or only following a 10 Cloverfield Lane’s successful move, that doesn’t matter anymore, because lightning rarely struck the same place twice.
Parts of The Blair Witch Project successful tenure comes from viral marketing, and that’s what the sequel cannot manage to follow. While the predecessor presents the story like a documentary went wrong with convincing cinema verite style; making the found footage approach tells more than only a gimmick; Blair Witch is a straightforward venture to the wood. It only follows the predecessor in these things: found footage (not necessarily, given the nature of how the characters take the picture, it’s more like live footage), the same Black Hills in Burkittsville, the same myth as the subject matter, and basically the ‘narrative’ not the presentation.
Blair Witch doesn’t intend to be a found footage. It’s more like a search party assisted with a series of modern cameras: a DSLR one, personal cameras with GPS, drone-mounting camera, as well as some surveillance camera. Those cameras provide sharper images and more realistic color than the predecessor, giving a sense of a more naturalistic terror. What annoys much is the switch between one camera to another, which always begins with loud, exaggerated click noise adding up to layers of loud sounds and excessively shaky camera movement.
Taking up 20 years following the event in the first movie, the story itself revolves around James (James Allen McCune), younger brother of Heather from the first movie, who still believes if his sister is still there at the Black Hills. His hope sparks when footage believed to be obtained from the site where Heather’s gone is uploaded to Youtube. Along with his possible girlfriend and coupled friends with those full equipment, James plans to return to the woods, guided by two local freaks. There’s where the synopsis should end; otherwise, I would reveal some important spoilers (which I will eventually do later on).
Coming from the vision of Wingard, a director known for his penchant for tribute, Blair Witch falls short on that tribute-style storytelling. Blair Witch doesn’t intend to expand the storytelling–going beyond the myth and exploring more on what really happened in the Black Hills and to Heather et al. It instead reuses the old formula part by part and culminates in the climactic scene. It seems like an upgrade and upsizes version of the predecessor, which finally catches the real deal of terror. The result is: it is a lot scarier and, consequently, lots dizzying.
While the predecessor relies much on atmosphere building and the look of terror as reflected in our characters’ confusion of being trapped in such a moment, Blair Witch also experiments in such a formula but only partially. The rest is a parade of chaos and perplexity, which has gone out of control. In the hand of Wingard and Barrett, this sequel also experiments on something the predecessor never touches, but the feat knows well (as shown in You’re Next and The Guest): elements of black comedy. Good thing is, that the black comedy element is particularly subtle as it is integrated into the storyline and adding frustration, instead of bitter laugh. How those characters react in horror situations, like they suddenly act randomly or hilariously in panic, that’s what makes the moment more harrowing. Among other updates/upgrades they made, perhaps, this is the best integrated.
In the end, Blair Witch is only decent because it’s a sequel of The Blair Witch Project with an upgrade version of some explicit elements, which made the predecessor a simple classic. It manages to be scarier in looks than the predecessor, but in repeating the predecessor, it falls short because the rest of it is only a slack screamfest full of loud & chaotic horrors, with Wingard’s sense of black comedy.
Blair Witch (2016)
This review is sponsored by Book My Show Indonesia.