Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch does absolutely everything wrong.
Earlier we posted our Timely Perspective on The Blair Witch Project. The found footage phenomenon that still haunts our subconscious seventeen years later. The original film is so sure of what it is and how to achieve what it wants to get out of audiences. Other than its production budget, it’s not a cheap movie. The Blair Witch Project doesn’t lure you in with manipulative camera movement, it doesn’t utilize bursts of audio when convenient, and it doesn’t have jump scares that cheapen your experience due to sound and editing.
The Blair Witch Project is so convincingly well done that an entire country questioned if it was actually real.
The three missing student filmmakers all look and sound like actual people. And they were. Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard all went by their actual names. They wore baggy clothes along with their flannel and that damn alligator tooth necklace. And without an actual script to rehearse lines from – everything you see on screen is them. I believe nothing is rehearsed and you can sense the tension, the anxiety, the exhaustion, and the fear that slowly creeps into them all. The Blair Witch Project is a masterpiece in filmmaking because of its story, its authenticity (albeit fake), and the level of detail it gave to its mythology.
So just what in the hell went wrong with Blair Witch then? That’s an easy answer:
Blair Witch takes place in 2014 and has an opening title card similar to its direct predecessor. This time their footage is found on SD cards in High Definition. James, the younger brother to Heather from the first film, is obsessed with finding his sister. After discovering a YouTube video showing what he believes to be his sister still in the woods and trapped in the house of the Blair Witch (and having much more ease at freeze framing a YouTube video than I do) he gets a group of his friends to join him in finding her.
James and his group of friends Lisa, Peter, and Ashley are all in their younger 20’s. Remember how Blair Witch is set 20 years later? If James is obsessed with finding his sister then why wait so long? His friend Peter at one point says to Lane, the YouTuber that uploaded the video that James thinks is his sister, that he was in these woods before as he looks around like he remembers. He was in the search party looking for the three filmmakers. Let’s do the math on that one… If Peter is 25 in the movie then he would have been five years old when joining that search party.
Something doesn’t add up.
If James was truly obsessed with finding Heather he would have made an attempt years ago. When? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a fifteen or sixteen-year old James to make his first attempt? At that age, he’s old enough to drive a car, still feels smarter than everyone else, and can take on the world with no repercussions. He gets his fellow teenage friends to join and then bad things happen. I’d be so down for that. I can relate to being a dumb teenager who thinks he is invincible. But as it is I don’t buy it. You’re not obsessed, James. You’re lazy.
Remember how Heather, Josh, and Mike looked like regular people? And how that helped you relate to them and not make you feel like you were watching something fake? In the first minute of Blair Witch I knew that wasn’t the case. The four leads are all attractive looking people. I mean, Callie Hernandez. This immediately took me out of the movie. These aren’t people who exist in the same world as the missing filmmakers in The Blair Witch Project. These are models. What’s worse is when you realize they’re going to try acting their asses off by delivering expository dialogue that sounds and feels like it’s been written and rehearsed time and time again.
With the advent of technology, the group’s HD video cameras are also GPS trackers. They look like Bluetooth headsets that clip onto their ears too. We’re told early on that the GPS works just fine as long as they keep fresh batteries in them. So you just KNOW one or more of them is going to have that thing go completely dead when they need it the most. Why else would they mention that? To my astonishment they never went out!
So, again, why mention it?
All of the footage they shot looks amazing. 90% of the shots are with their HD headsets which also makes for much less of a shaky cam found footage vibe. If anything, the shots are too clean, too HD. It ruins the aesthetic that was set by The Blair Witch Project. Combine that with the gorgeous looking cast and we’re already at three strikes, people.
My next gripe is the season. In the first movie they go camping in October. It’s all brown and gray and leaves crunch beneath their feet. It’s dead. In Blair Witch everything is green. It looks like a damn Florida summer. Lush green foliage isn’t scary unless there’s a Predator hiding in the trees.
Is Blair Witch scary?
It is, but in a cheap and manipulative way. There is not one genuine scare in the whole movie that isn’t a jump scare where someone pops up out of nowhere to announce their existence. To push that angle further they also use peripheral camera moves that prevent you from seeing what’s just out of frame. When scares do happen, Blair Witch cranks up the sound to the max. There’s one scene with all the stick figure totems, but unlike the first film, there’s like, A LOT. And yes, there’s also a scene where the group wakes up to piles of rocks in front of them as well. It’s definitely rehashing the same elements we’ve seen before, but is it doing anything different?
Yes, and this is where Blair Witch gets really bizarre… (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW)
There is something in the woods after our group of campers. We all assume it’s the Blair Witch. We hear the creepy cackles echoing throughout the night but of course see nothing. When the witch comes close to anyone it (calling it an “it” over a “she” because it’s obvious this perhaps isn’t what we think it is) sounds like the Smoke Monster from LOST. It’s a thundering stomping creature that carries its weight around with it. Is this still meant to be the Blair Witch? I’m honestly not sure.
James and Lisa end up making their way to the house where we last saw Mike standing in the corner. That memory still gives me chills as I type this seventeen years after I saw it. In the house we have the YouTuber, Lane, attack and throw Lisa down a hole into what I could only assume is the plumbing. When Lane sees Lisa he says, “You look just like I remember!” and then attacks her. Earlier in the film Lane and his friend Talia come across the main group in the middle of the night, claiming that they haven’t seen them in five days when the group says it was just a few hours ago. This is the one new addition to the Blair Witch mythos that I thought was original and really frightening when thought about.
Good job on that one thing.
While James is further exploring around the house we actually see glimpses of a couple different things… A type of apparition that appears and disappears is haunting, and it presents itself a few times in the movie, then there’s a night gown looking lady (I think the two are different though?), oh, and there’s this creature type thing that’s very abnormally shaped (and the cause for all of the bombastic sounds in the woods). I think this creature is the Blair Witch if anything is, but that doesn’t feel right either.
We see piercing white lights radiate through the house. Things shake and move outside. Is… is this a… Is the Blair Witch an alien? It seems that all signs are pointing to YES. I mean, the writers of The Blair Witch Project had a mythology that was so painstakingly well put together, but it’s a gross misunderstanding this time.
Director Adam Wingard with writer Simon Barrett last made The Guest together and I had high hopes that the same team would deliver again. The Guest is one of my favorite movies in recent years. It’s very thought out and meticulous in a rigorously detailed way. Blair Witch is not. It’s sloppy and silly. To take something that was so effective that you have a passion for and squander it is the worst type of failure. Blair Witch is a complete failure.
Is the Blair Witch a witch? Or is she a ghost? Or is she an alien? I mean…
His love of most things in entertainment can be summed up by having an English Bulldog named Spielberg and consistently asking if it’s Halloween yet.