Back in 1999, a little independent film titled The Blair Witch Project was released and with a budget of only sixty thousand dollars and ended up making over two hundred million back, and is one of the most successful independent films of all time.
Let’s face it, even if The Blair Witch Project is a pretty creepy movie that can get under your skin at times, there really is not a whole bunch that happens during the film. Nothing really scares transpires throughout the entire film. Although 2016’s Blair Witch is definitely not without its flaws, but I would be lying if I told you I didn’t really dig this film, because I truthfully really did. In fact, I am willing to go as far as to say that I enjoyed this entry more than the 1999 original, and it is definitely a lot scarier as well, which is kind of the main goal of a horror film.
James Donahue (James Allen McCune), the brother of the missing Heather Donahue, ventures out with a couple of his friends into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland, because he saw a video on YouTube that contained a girl that resembles Heather. With a spark of hope reignited within himself, James will do whatever it takes to find his long lost sister that went missing decades prior.
Right off the bat, one of the biggest positives with Blair Witch is the gloomy and unsettling atmosphere it sets up in the first scene, and continues with it until the film ends. As soon as the sky goes dark and our lead protagonists are trapped out in the forest with each other, it was genuinely creepy, and you really felt the terror they were all going through. The massive size of the forest was really impacting this time around as well.
Another thing there is to appreciate about this sequel to the 1999 original is how dedicated it is to showing us the gruesome side of the titular entity. In The Blair Witch Project we never got to see just how much violence she could cause, or how she could manipulate her victims, but it is in this film that we finally get to see that and it was genuinely amazing to see.
Also, this film has six characters wandering through the woods together in a hope to find James’ sister Heather. In the 1999 original, we only had three main protagonists we followed, one of which was Heather. When I realized that there was double the amount of characters present within this installment, I was a bit worried that the script would not be able to balance and develop the characters fully, but thankfully, they were all great and my worries were quickly put to rest.
Blair Witch is also a film that is extremely loud, which is great. What I mean by that, is sometimes you will hear sounds such as footsteps and tree branches crackling far off in the distance, and it really makes you feel as if you, the audience member, are in the forest yourself, trapped with these characters. What further propels this as well, is that, much like the original film, we are watching the film take place through the point of view of our lead protagonists camera. We also get to see several scenes through the lens of a drone that our characters will often use to scout out locations for them to go to in their search for Heather. As smart as these scenes with the drone can be, it did unfortunately take me out of the experience briefly, as when those scenes appeared, it did feel like a large production motion picture, rather than a lost footage film like the first film.
My biggest issue with Blair Witch is something that unfortunately seems to be reappearing in so many horror films being made these days and it quite simply needs to stop already – jump scares. To me, jump scares are not scary in the slightest bit. They are instead startling. A sudden jolt or rush due to a face quickly flashing on the screen often accompanied with a loud sound is definitely startling but it is not scary. To my disappointment, Blair Witch has probably ten or more jump scares scattered throughout its eighty nine minute run time, and with each passing jump scare, the more annoyed I got.
It would have been perhaps a bit better if the jump scares were real dangers, but instead, they were simply false jump scares. A false jump scare to me is something that is considered a jump scare due to the quick flash on the screen with loud music playing while it pops up on screen, but the “scare” is something that neither the character or the audience member should be scared of. For example, if a cat were to quickly appear out of nowhere on camera accompanied with loud music, that is not something the character in the film should be scared of, and it is something that the viewer should not be scared of either. It is genuinely so disappointing to see dozens of horror films being made these days using nothing but cheap jump scares in a desperate attempt at scaring the viewer. I honestly hope some filmmakers come along soon, and make an excellent horror film that does not rely on jump scares at all, but instead relies on true and actually scary horror techniques.
With that being said however, the scariest aspect of this film is its last twenty or so minutes. Everything feels so intense, and it is largely in part due to the fact that all of the characters we have gotten to know throughout the course of the film are in the most danger around this part. Director Adam Wingard did some truly amazing things with the finale in Blair Witch and it definitely topped the iconic ending of the 1999 film. If only he could have used the same techniques for the rest of the film instead of jump scares all over the place.
Even though there are lots of jump scares and it falls back on tropes, Blair Witch does has a few genuinely shocking and gripping moments, interesting characters, and an investing story.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, terror and some disturbing images
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Running Time: 89 minutes