the secret is out! And now, SFX’s review is too…
released 16 september 15 | 89 minutes Director adam Wingard Cast Corbin reid, Wes robinson, Valorie Curry, James allen mcCune
If you were lucky enough to see The Blair Witch Project in a cinema back in 1999, you may well have found the audience starkly divided, with some willing to submit to and submerge themselves in the film’s world, while others, scornful in the face of a tidal wave of hype, stage-whispered, “This isn’t that scary” to their mates. Seventeen long years later, Adam Wingard’s revival of the long-dormant franchise is likely to face similar resistance – but this time it’ll probably be fans of the original who are crossing their arms and challenging the film, “Go on then, impress me.”
Reviving Blair Witch is obviously a project fraught with difficulty. The original was a massive cultural phenomenon, of the sort which only arises when all the right planets align. Although TBWP didn’t invent faux-foundfootage horror – we can credit 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust with that – it was the first example most people had seen. In 2016, thanks largely to Paranormal Activity’s budget-to-box-office ratio, it’s a style of filmmaking that’s become wearyingly over-familiar. Wisely, however, Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by abandoning the format.
Once again we follow a group of student filmmakers as they head into a Maryland forest to document the legends surrounding child-murdering serial killer Rustin Parr and his inspiration, the spirit of an executed witch. Once again, exiting the woods proves much more difficult than entering them. And once again, everything’s recorded for posterity – this time with the aid of earpiece-cams and a drone, at an image resolution which means the aesthetic is markedly less grungey.
It’s the right path to take. Extract Blair Witch from the woods, or tell the story a different way, and you’d end up with something that’s more original but isn’t really Blair Witch. However, it does mean that for at least half its duration this is a sequel which feels surprisingly like a remake.
Gradually, however, points of difference emerge – and some may prove controversial. TBWP was infamously enigmatic; it challenged you to fill in the gaps, speculating and imagining unseen horrors. To progress beyond being a mere retread, Blair Witch has little choice but to expand upon the original. It does so by telling us and showing us a little more, and generally going further.
So, for example, we learn exactly how the witch was executed – a detail which has hideous significance when we finally actually get to see her. The geographical dislocation of TWBP – which sent its bickering camera crew round in circles – is here expanded to encompass temporal dislocation. There’s even an explanation of sorts for the sinister stick figures once again left suspended from branches.
For some, these will be fundamental betrayals. But Blair Witch has to give us something new, and most of these innovations work rather well – the witch, for
Judged on its own terms, it’s pretty effective
example, is an impressively shiver-inducing monstrosity.
One tweak which arguably backfires, however, removes a key element of the original: the depressing days spent tramping through the forest, knowing that nightfall is sure to bring another visitation. There was a horrible grim inevitability to those scenes, and excising them is like making a Ring film that all takes place in one day; one’s left wondering if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to stoically endure such painful repetition. And convincingly panic-stricken though the young cast are, their more conventional, Hollywood dentistry attractiveness does slightly diminish the sense of watching recorded reality.
But the last 20 minutes or so are a triumph. Cranking up the tension to nails-dug-into-palms levels, they see our heroes ending up at the same destination as their predecessors. Thanks in large part to first-rate sound design, these sequences are gruelling, suffused with dread, and liable to leave you feeling quite exhausted. Chances are some fans of The Blair Witch Project will feel Blair
Witch sells out in its quest for mainstream appeal. But judged purely on its own terms, it’s a pretty effective horror film. If TBWP had never existed, it’d probably be hailed as something special. As it is, it’s a solidly enjoyable revival – better than most modern-day reboots, hugely superior to the 2000 sequel, and certain to reignite interest in the original. So let’s not make Adam Wingard stand in the corner.
The Mulder and Scully cosplay competition got going.
Barbara Windsor’s flying bikini top caused chaos.