Blair Witch is everything you should hate in a film. It’s a found footage sequel based on a classic psychological horror; be that as it may, you simply can’t.
The film follows James, the brother of the missing Heather from The Blair Witch Project, as he and his friends search the Black Hills after a videotape surfaces online in which James swears he can see Heather. Their excursion and woodland shenanigans are all recorded by Lisa who is conveniently recording a documentary for college.
The film doesn’t try too hard to be a believable documentary, and given how popular its predecessor was, it’d just be laughable to try. Due to this, the acting is far slicker than the original, with the characters feeling more defined than the goofy but stilted ‘normal’ behaviour of the first film’s cast. The panic and the paranoia of being lost in the woods is well portrayed, building into a crescendo of fear and violence that culminates in a brilliant final scene, albeit one that is almost directly lifted from the Spanish zombie-horror film [REC].
Director Adam Wingard isn’t afraid of stylised violence and using bold and striking sound effects, as evinced by some of his previous work such as The Guest and You’re Next. Sound definitely plays a big part in the horror with thunderous groaning sounds and snapping trees instrumental in setting the atmosphere. At times, this can be more than a little forced when noises that don’t belong in a forest are coming hard and fast, but it’s an effective ploy all the same.
The found footage aspect of the film is both its main strength and its biggest weakness. Jagged shots of blurred trees zipping by again and again gets tedious, fast. However, the payoff to this comes in the form of a genuinely scary witch and trope-heavy but satisfying jump-scares. The sense of Lovecraftian horror at being lost in the woods with something you can’t comprehend is captured well in this style, with the dark surroundings and facial close ups creating a sense of claustrophobia. The gang brings along a drone for filming above the canopy and thank God they do. The slow, measured climb of the drone above the treeline offers a welcome break to the choppy action shots, and I was sad to see the end of them.
Despite being given the usual lines (you know the ones; throwing blame onto each other, “this can’t be happening” etc.) their fear is palpable and their confusion believable. Casting relative unknowns, much like the original, is a nice touch as the cast feel like genuinely new people we’re getting to know.
Blair Witch is a fast and fun, trope-heavy horror that’s as fun and as scary as you’re willing to let it be. Take it at face value and it’s a much more successful attempt than recent horror sequels, and one that will stand the test of time, albeit as a juiced-up modern take on a classic indie horror.
Blair Witch is in cinemas from September 15.