Its no secret I’ve been disappointed with horror lately. All the polite and pedestrian machinations of The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe etc. have been taking a serious toll on my love of horrors – the modern ones at least.. there’s only so much disillusionment a girl can take!
So when I heard that The Blair Witch Project (90’s game changer and seriously scary) had a sequel in the works that filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett (of You’re Next and The Guest) had been quietly beavering away at for five years, I was skeptical. Sequels don’t have the best track record and it’s been a long time between drinks; still, at least it wasn’t a remake.
Picking up 20 years after the events of the precious installment, this iteration sees Heather’s younger brother James (James Allan McCune) on a quest to find out what happened to his sister and her crew in the Black Hills of Burkittsvile, Maryland. Putting together a crew of friends (Peter – Brandon Scott, Lisa – Callie Hernandez, and Ashley – Corbin Reid) they start by tracking down the folks who put up an intriguing YouTube video of found footage that has convinced James that his sister is still alive. The finders of that footage (Lane – Wes Roberston – who has some mysteries of his own, and Talia – Valorie Curry) insist on tagging along on their ‘camping trip’ and before you know it, they’ve parked at the edge of the forest, hauled on their backpacks and set off into the woods with cameras. Terror ensues.
Easily solving the ‘why are they still carrying cameras when running for their lives’ issue of previous films by giving their protagonists ear-cams and drone-cam, this sequel seems to have thought of everything. By updating this not dissimilar storyline from the mid-nineties to now, they encounter and tackle any questions that arise, with our modern technology quickly becoming useless in the almost Bermuda-triangle-like quality of these witchy woods and our filmmakers refusing to ignore the necessity of confronting these questions, the audience is rest assured the film is in good hands.
The characters are the weak point here – less time and effort has been placed into developing them into real people so connecting with them even on a basic level is more difficult for the audience. A few seem to do very silly things, particularly at the end, but this doesn’t have the negative impact on the film it could have. I can believe that when panicking we are not always our most rational selves!
A few other minor quibbles: Lane needed much more storyline as he was given interest that was not developed and we needed more – a wasted opportunity; I also missed the discussions about the documentary they were making itself – this seemed to have been forgotten about once they got to the woods, and I wanted more about Lisa’s foot injury, this was again, a wasted opportunity – everyone loves body horror.
The woods themselves are almost an additional character and the cinematography does justice to them more so than the previous film. It is also clear that Wingard and Barrett learnt from the success of the original that sound is almost the most important quality in this atmospheric tale and have played close attention to it, though they have gone more for the ‘loud discordant sounds’ school of horror rather than the more ‘barely heard woods cracking in the distance’ stuff that was so effective in the first film.
There are more jump scares and most don’t work but it didn’t bother me as they were not the main of the story but merely appetizers. Once the horror starts (and it’s a long build up of course) it is absolutely solid scares. The ending is much more fleshed out than the original but just as grueling if not more, and the tension is so palpable you feel like you’re there.
I liked the way the film played with time, something not in the first film; and the trees themselves had a much bigger role to play here which made it feel as if the whole woods were against our intrepid crew.
Luckily this film took the less is more approach with the more supernatural elements and while there were barely glimpsed creatures, this was all you needed of them to create that ‘hair standing on your neck’ feel.
The first Blair Witch Project was a classic, and changed the face of horror from the point it was released.
Will this film change anything?
Is it a film that will stay with me?
Could it have featured quieter, more subtle and more effective horror moments?
Is it a tense, well-made and actually creepy horror film?