‘Blair Witch’ Sequel: Predictability Is Only Thing Haunting The Black Hills In This Follow Up To A Classic
When the original Blair Witch movie began its online promotion back in 1999, would-be audiences lost their minds. The first in what would soon unravel into a horror movie subset of found-footage films, the haphazardly assembled DV tape flick masquerading as documentary terrified viewers with its realness. In between shaky hand-held footage and indiscriminate bumps-in-the-night, any supernatural terror was kept off-screen, the fear of the paranoid and lost “filmmakers” the centerpiece of the now 17 year-old horror classic. Behind-the-scenes, the production of the ultimately fictitious ghost story had its own horrifying methods; made for under $25,000, the three actors were dropped in the woods and forced to improvise with minimal direction, each day given less and less food to mimic the dread of their characters. Their fear was raw and visceral. This is what the 2016 follow up sadly lacks.
‘Blair Witch’ Sequel Review
The new Blair Witch picks up several years after the events of the original film, and follows a crew of ambitious student filmmakers as they venture into the Black Hills to find the mysterious house where the previous group of young adults met their end (the film conveniently reveals that search teams were unable to locate the house). Why are they willingly stepping into danger? The crew includes James, the younger brother of original final girl Heather, who supposedly died in the basement of the Blair Witch’s lair two decades ago. Prompted by a YouTube video that allegedly shows his sister alive, emulating the many “real” paranormal found-footage videos that populate the website, he heads to Burkittsville with friends Peter Jones, Ashley Bennett, and budding documentarian Lisa Arlington. Armed with the latest in cinema-quality DSLR and drone cameras, all which come with confidence-boosting GPS, the gang meets up with the creepy couple who uploaded the online video, Talia and Lane, who awkwardly add themselves to the expedition.
Things already start to go haywire when Ashley mysteriously cuts her foot on a rock while crossing the same river as Heather and her gang, and later takes ill. Not long after the sun sets, the unsettling noises and thumps that plagued the original film crew torment this fresh batch of victims, and they wake up to the the now iconic stick figures hanging around their tents. For this first scare, they are lucky; when they find out Lane was behind the people-shaped sticks, they cast him and Talia out to fend for themselves. It is only when they come stumbling back to the remaining crew in the pitch blackness of a night that Lane claims has never ended, that they realize the couple is not behind the increasingly bizarre happenings in the woods.
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The 2016 Blair Witch notably departs from the original in its apparent—and somewhat desperate—need to explain and show as much as it can about the eponymous monster, without breaking the found-footage mold. This time, we learn that the Witch is out for revenge, having been strung up on a tree with her limbs stretched out, an image later revealed at the film’s climax, and one that reeks of online horror mythology mimicry. Slenderman fans, rejoice. Death and capture of each member of the film crew is predictable and hilariously stereotypical, and the character’s rarely break from their archetypes and exposition to make them empathetic. The raw emotional breakdown of Heather saying goodbye to loved ones in a recorded message scene in the original is absent, replaced by loud and fleeting jump-scares. Although a death-by-falling-tree scene might be too funny to miss, it’s not long before we are unsurprisingly back in the labyrinth-like house, staring into the corners to avoid looking at the Blair Witch, who at this point has adopted the same M.O. as Harry Potter’s Basilisk.
What’s most disappointing about this edition of the Blair Witch is its inevitable falseness, a feeling that found-footage tries to avoid. The slick looking DSLR camera shots don’t hold up to the grittiness of a tape camcorder, and at no point do the actors screaming and crying on screen appear to be anything more than people hired to do so. Perhaps this has as much to do with the passage of time as it does with style and performance. Blair Witch (1999) appeared at the dawn of the internet age, when video wasn’t ubiquitous, and an endless log of “true-stories” couldn’t be re-watched, fact-checked, and ultimately debunked (conversely, this is why Unfriended, the Skype horror movie, is a successful premise, because it preys on immediacy and a culture of always being connected). The audience has no choice but to sneak a glimpse at the monster the 1999 version only hinted at, because that is the movie’s only shot at a genuine horror experience. Unfortunately, the result is a disappointing display of fakeness.
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