The very existence of this third film in the Blair Witch franchise sounds like the premise of a horror movie in and of itself. “At the turn of the century, a monstrosity arose from the inky void of the internet. It all started innocently enough, but no one could have known this low-budget indie fright flick would unleash the twin terrors of viral marketing and found-footage horror films on an unprepared world, afflictions from which our society has yet to recover. Seventeen years later, the beast once again rises from the depths, hell-bent on eating your time and snatching your cash. Can you handle the cinematic scourge that is … THE REDUNDANT SEQUEL?!”
Did audiences really need a third Blair Witch movie? It could be argued that we didn’t need the first one, although it was at least unique for its time. After the atrocity that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, filmmakers should’ve learned to heed all those “no trespassing” signs and avoid the Maryland woods entirely. But we don’t live in a world in which blatant cash-grabs are easily passed up, so an utterly unnecessary retread of The Blair Witch Project was practically inevitable.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Blair Witch is essentially the same film as its 1999 predecessor, with the addition of updated technology and the subtraction of the cult charm and formal inventiveness of the original. Obviously, this is not the formula for a successful reexamination of the source material. The filmmakers also make cursory attempts to diversify the cast, adding a black couple to our core group of protagonists as well as a pair of quasi-redneck antagonists, which results in some ill-addressed subtextual commentary on race and class that contribute next to nothing in the broader context of the narrative. When you consider that the black guy is still the first character to die/disappear, you realize this film is only progressive on paper, falling prey to the same tired cliches that have plagued the genre for decades.
Found-footage films are notoriously difficult to analyze from a critical perspective. There seems to be a prevailing theory among contemporary filmmakers that incompetent direction can be hidden behind the conceptual limitations of found-footage as a filmic form, but the reality is the structural impositions of that form require greater technical prowess than traditional methods of cinematic construction. Directorially, the lack of establishing shots necessitated by this gimmick requires an extraordinarily developed sense of spatial reasoning if the film is to avoid confusing camera setups and incomprehensible staging. It should probably go without saying at this point that Blair Witch fails on this front.
The single most significant sin of Blair Witch is that director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett thoroughly failed to grasp the appeal of the original film. The Blair Witch Project was able to overcome its budgetary challenges by evoking atmospheric dread from natural settings, avoiding the need for any costly special effects or flashy set pieces. I’m reminded of the scene in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) in which Kirk Douglas — playing a Val Lewton proxy — hits on the idea of never revealing his film’s monster on-screen because the audience will be able to imagine something infinitely more terrifying than the guys in velour cat suits he’s been tasked with making scary. While The Blair Witch Project understood this concept, Blair Witch tries to top its predecessor through abusively obtrusive sound design and some thoroughly ridiculous shots of the witch herself. None of this works.
There’s really not a lot to say about a film that has nothing original to say itself. Nothing remotely scary happens until midway through the second act, and even then things quickly devolve into absurdity (beware the haunted tent!). This is a film in which our ostensible protagonist repeatedly states he is laboring under the delusion that his sister (Heather Donahue, star of the original) might have survived her ordeal and could have been living alone in the wilderness for close to two decades. In light of this fact, should I really have been surprised by how stupid this movie actually is on the whole? Perhaps not, but I guess my misguided optimism has led me astray once again. If you’re a genre completist or can’t wait until a superior crop of horror movies comes out in October or love shaky-cam so much you’ll put up with an insipid script and amateurish cast, then there might be something of value for you in Blair Witch. All others would be best served to avoid this one. It may not be horrifying, but it is a horrific mess of a film. Rated R for language, terror and some disturbing images.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville