Film Review: Blair Witch

I was 14 when the buzz around a film called The Blair Witch Project began. My mate and I quickly became obsessed, reading everything we could find online, buying the film poster and scribbling odes to the “witch” in geography class – we were convinced it was real.

Blair Witch Poster

Incredibly I didn’t actually get to see it for over a year, until my best mate stole it from her sister and brought it to a sleepover. And I loved it. Yeah, it’s slow going, not a lot happens and there is a lot of snot, but that final scene… I tell you, it’s stayed with me…

A large part of the success of the film was down to its phenomenal marketing. So many of us thought it was a real witch and a real story (maybe it is?). It also cost less than £1M to make and grossed over £248M – utterly incredible! Now, director Adam Wingard has also pulled off an impressive publicity stunt with Blair Witch by masquerading it as The Woods before the big announcement at Comic Con. I was gobsmacked – what a brilliant surprise.

So, I went to watch it on its release date, anxious and eager and having managed to avoid the many reviews littered all over the web by those lucky enough to have attended a preview (yes, I’m looking at you FrightFesters). Heading to the cinema I managed the inconceivable: an empty screen for the entire film. This was actually the scariest part. I ended up moving to the back row as there was light from the fire escape sign to allow me to see my notepad (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

Blair Witch is a direct sequel to The Blair Witch Project. It follows James, the brother of Heather Donahue, who, upon seeing footage of someone he believes to be his sister posted on the internet, ventures into the Black Hills forest in Maryland with his friends to uncover the mystery of her disappearance.

Blair Witch

After an initial set up, allowing the audience to differentiate the characters, the action starts slow with Ashley cutting her foot crossing a stream, and then dives right in with weird noises closing in on them as they camp for the night, and wooden stick men-type signs appearing above their tents.

The action never lets up as the group lose their way and the track of time, and one-by-one disappear into the night before the shattering showdown with the witch, in the battered house from the first film.

I like Wingard’s work but there were a few let downs here:

  • Horror clichés – The two black actors are the first and third to be killed and the girls are screaming as they run blindly through the forest, which is physically impossible.
  • The night time noises are incredibly loud. It sounds like the forest is caving in around them. I think smaller, simpler noises like footsteps and twigs snapping underfoot achieve a greater scare.
  • I thought Ashley’s character’s psychology would be developed further as the cut on her foot seemed to suggest she was either possessed or transforming. But she ends up being wiped out rather simply. I think this was a wasted avenue.
  • It wasn’t clear how long Heather has been missing. The group have Go Pros, Bluetooth ear pieces and a drone so we have to assume it’s been many years? How could James really believe she’s still alive
  • The biggest problem for me was it stopped being at all scary when you saw the witch. This is a fatal mistake that many horrors have committed. To me the figure looked like a human version of the Cloverfield monster. There is nothing scarier than our imagination so let the audience decide what the witch is.

That being said I did enjoy Blair Witch. There is more action than the first film and the characters are more likeable. Obviously, you know how the film is going to end but watching these friends succumb to psychological tricks i.e. the road disappearing, sleeping in till 2pm and the never ending nights were believable and, at times, devastating. You feel their fear, their exhaustion and, in one terrible scene, their claustrophobia; this is definitely one to see at the cinema.

Congratulations Wingard; long live the Blair Witch!

By Catherine Dunn (@toodamncat)

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