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‘Blair Witch’ Brings Us Back To The Woods And Back To Basics (Movie Review)

blair witch thumbFollowing You’re Next and The Guest, two thrillers that received solid acclaim (but sadly not higher profits), director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are back with the surprise that is Blair Witch. This will be mere trivia in years to come, but the film that was originally known as The Woods is actually a sequel to 1999’s breakout found footage film The Blair Witch Project. That bait-and-switch marketing approach matters little, as there is much more to appreciate in seeing a new set of characters explore some haunted woods.

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Serving as a true follow-up to the original film, with no references to the ambitious yet poorly accomplished Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Blair Witch is set 15 years later. James Donahue (James Allen McCune) is the younger brother of his lost sister Heather, who sets out with his friends to explore the Black Hills in Maryland to see if they can find her. This sudden mission is inspired by newly found footage discovered by two other locals, who also join the gang in their exploration. Conveniently, all of these characters are equipped with cameras (and even a drone) to capture the events.

That last bit is certainly fun to think about. Once again the film opens by stating how this footage was found and cobbled together to chronicle the last-known whereabouts of these people. Who does the editing? By this film’s logic, the amateur footage is both sporadically shot, but amazingly timed to deliver shock moments. We see wild camera movements when characters turn on the camera, but remarkable steadiness when it comes raising tension. Is the editor someone who takes random footage and shows off their talents to prove the possible career in horror filmmaking they could have?

Kidding aside, Blair Witch is technically a better film than the original thanks to a larger budget, more experienced filmmakers and a desire to deliver more scares with less limitation. The camera is a whole lot steadier, which is already a step up, but there is also enough to admire in how the film is staged to work in each of the cameras present.  There is also the benefit of how this film decides to create tension and scares. While the third act of this film should be left to the viewers to see for themselves, the buildup finds some effective beats to play with and a couple reveals do a genuinely good job of mixing things up and expanding the mythology of this horror universe.

All of that comes with a bit of a price and that is accepting what this film is. While Blair Witch is a sequel, the film is indebted to a formula established by the first film, not to mention a general pattern seen in a lot of found footage features. A set of characters enter the woods, spooky things happen, screaming and arguing takes place and the finale goes all out with possibly supernatural-type thrills. Depending on what the audience wants that is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means the film has a reliance based more on nostalgic praise for the original (or a desire to prove this take can improve upon it).

As opposed to Book of Shadows, which went in a radically different direction, Blair Witch is fine sticking to a formula. The benefit is, again, seeing an improved version of that formula. It will test the patience of some who go to every Paranormal Activity movie and others like, see the same basic idea, yet still expect something different every time. Others will appreciate the basic setup and restraint put in motion, before things get wild.

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The actors should be a key component in all of this, but they are more or less ciphers for the basic types you expect. Decent hero-type, best friend, best friend’s girlfriend, creepy character and his girlfriend; none of them act poorly, but the filmmaking style and attempts at naturalism only allow for so much attachment. There is the benefit of less bickering, compared to the screaming matches seen by Heather, Josh and Mike in the original, and that is due to the film only lasting for around 85-minutes minus credits. Blair Witch may have its buildup, but it does get to the point in an appropriate amount of time.

Still, one has to ask if there is much of a point. There may be a bit of predictability to how things will play out, but does Blair Witch have anything more to offer, aside from an entertaining reboot of a surprise horror hit? No, not really, but it doesn’t need to. The film is deceivingly simple, as well as creative in how it generates its scares and certain reveals. Nothing is being reinvented here, but there is satisfaction in seeing more creepy things in the woods on a more sophisticated level, now that the Blair Witch has a few more bucks to spend.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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