By Vincent Abbatecola
In 1999, directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez surprised audiences with their found-footage horror film, “The Blair Witch Project.” The story followed a trio of young filmmakers who, in October of 1994, get lost while venturing in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch. While it wasn’t as scary as it was made out to be, you can’t deny the impact it had on found-footage films and the horror genre as a whole.
A little over a year later, Hollywood released a sequel, “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which was nothing more than an ugly case of a studio cash-grab to piggyback off of the success of the original.
Now, indie horror director Adam Wingard makes his contribution to the Blair Witch legend with the third film in the series, “Blair Witch.” Although it’s easily better than the disastrous second installment, there’s hardly anything in the film to justify its existence.
The story follows James Donahue (James Allen McCune), who decides to venture into the Maryland woods under the belief that his sister, Heather, may still be alive after disappearing with her two friends while filming a documentary on the Blair Witch. Not too long after starting their journey, James and his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott), and Ashley (Corbin Reid), along with guides Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) soon figure out they are being hunted by the same evil James’ sister and her friends encountered on their ill-fated trip.
You can’t really judge the acting too harshly because the cast isn’t really given much to do except act terrified, scream, hyperventilate, and repeat. Despite doing an okay job with their limited material, it’s evident rather quickly with what kind of performances we’re going to get, so there isn’t much need to describe them any further.
The screenplay by Simon Barrett, who wrote Wingard’s darkly comical slasher film, “You’re Next,” pretty much follows the same route as the original film, with a lot of the events in this movie being similar to those of the original, so there’s hardly anything new to present in the story. Besides the lack of interesting occurrences in the narrative, that deficiency also extends to the characters. Even though there are six main roles in the film, we learn the bare minimum about them, as the single important thing we know is that James is Heather’s brother.
One of the only interesting things in the film is how each of the four friends are given their own camera, mostly in the form of an earpiece device, with the movie usually going back and forth between each person. This allows the story to break up the characters and see what each of them is up to, instead of having them altogether behind one camera.
What made “The Blair Witch Project” so alluring was seeing the amateur videocamera footage on the big screen and going through the experience of watching something that seemed real. However, over the years since the release of the original, there have been countless found-footage films (including six “Paranormal Activity” movies between 2009 and 2015) that have flooded cinemas, so the novelty of the sub-genre has already worn off.
Considering Wingard’s success with “You’re Next,” I was looking forward to him directing a sequel to a hit horror property, a sequel that would be more in tune with the original. He could have delivered some of the inventiveness of that film to “Blair Witch,” but the movie just ends up playing out like the original and most other found-footage movies we’ve seen over the last few years. And it doesn’t help that he uses the same jump scare over and over again that involves the characters popping up in front of the camera. Any average horror director could have done that, and I expected more from Wingard. Although he’s able to give the tension a bit of a boost in the third act, it doesn’t last for long as it has already become obvious how the movie is going to end. In the future, Wingard should stay away from something as tired as the found-footage genre and display his talents in other fields of horror.
Final Grade: C-