Above Parr

SFX - - Contents - Ian Ber­ri­man

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.

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