by George Wolf
Buried now under so many years of bad found footage movies and viral marketing gimmicks, it’s easy to forget that in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was a scary sensation for good reason: it was creepy and frightening on a brilliantly primal level. It may be impossible now to view that film without the baggage nearly twenty years have added, but the main complaint from the naysayers is usually “it’s not scary…nothing happens!”
Director Adam Wingard hears you, and he has something for you.
Wingard’s Blair Witch began last year with the unassuming title The Woods, before unveiling itself as a BWP sequel (Book of Shadows is wisely ignored) a few months back. Repeating the genius of the original film’s “is it real?” firestorm wasn’t going to happen, but this rope-a-dope title switch was an early sign of Wingard’s solid instincts for both limitation and opportunity.
Remember poor Heather from BWP? Her brother James (James Allen McCune) thinks he glimpses her in a strange online video, so he tracks down the poster, Lane (Wes Robinson). Lane says he found the tape while hiking in the Black Hills Forest, the same area in Maryland where Heather, Mike and Josh went missing years before.
James’s friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) is the budding documentarian this time, so along with friends Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott), they head into the forest, filming their search for the mysterious house deep inside it where, hopefully, Heather can still be found.
Wingard (You’re Next) and usual screenwriter Simon Barrett know we know some of what’s coming, so they serve it up. Strange noises at night, twigs, and piles of stones are all here (which, if this is the same witch at work, they should be) but we also get an eerie expansion of the ways time and space seem to break down inside the forest.
There are plenty more jump scares, too, and then a sly acknowledgement that this device can quickly grow tiresome, before it’s on to the main event. The tension, naturally, doesn’t feel as tight as when we first went into these woods, but Wingard, as he did with the film’s “fake” title, is confidently exploiting his chance to bring our guard down.
Once inside the house, things most definitely happen, and it’s a helluva fun ride.
The pace becomes almost breakneck, and as the point of view is mainly through a video camera, we’re scanning all corners of the screen for a light source, a way out, someone standing in the corner..or worse.
And if you have one certain phobia, expect to squirm plenty.
Blair Witch is Wingard and Barrett’s most complete film, because it understands why the original Project was scary, and how to honor that horror legacy while turning the action up a notch.