"as soon as i saw all the handprints on the wall i would be out of there"
The above quote is an excerpt from a significantly longer 1999 alt.horror post from a young viewer who described all the things that he would do differently were he a character in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And for some reason it stuck with me, even though I never asked the reasonable follow-up question "Yeah? What next?" Sorry, but some films just stack the deck against you. You're already dead. You're already in Hell. You're already in the hotel basement. And no matter what you do, time and space are going to keep folding back and you're going to keep winding up in the same spot until you finally arrive at the house and then something or other is going to make you go in. Just deal with it.
TBWP may not really be "the one that started it all," but it's unquestionably the one that kicked off the mania of "found footage" horror in America. And every year I keep hoping the trend has peaked. Which is not to say it never works. But back in the pre-Facebook era, it was the rage for quite some time and we were promised not one, but two immediate sequels. When BOOK OF SHADOWS tanked, however, the third entry was immediately scrapped. BOOK did have an interesting idea behind it, though--let's be fair. It took full advantage of real-life Burkittsville "Blair Witch" mania while acknowledging that the first film was "only a movie." But it tried to have it both ways and say that there still WAS something wonky in the woods.
Now we finally get the sequel people thought they wanted and needed originally. The sequel that follows the Joe-Bob Briggs rule. "If you're going to make a sequel, make a SEQUEL. Make the EXACT SAME FILM." The new BLAIR WITCH comes to us from experienced found-footage director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett.
BOOK never happened and the first film is real again. Some fourteen years later, Heather's obsessed younger brother (James Allen McCune) finds what he takes to be an on-line clue to his sister's disappearance and absolutely has to make the pilgrimage to Burkittsville. His friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez) just happens to be featuring him in a documentary, their friends Ashley and Peter are willing to come along... oh, but the trip can't happen unless the couple who supposedly found the mysterious tape gets to tag along and act as tour guides.
The technology is, of course, up to date and we even have a drone camera that can give us the panoramic overhead view denied us in the first film (not that it does any good). The characters assemble reluctantly (tension kicks off because two of the friends are black and the interlopers just happen to be displaying a Confederate flag) and make the trek and camp out where they shouldn't... long story short, it's "well, THAT was a joke but THIS wasn't!" and everybody's screwed.
But you already knew that from the beginning. The novelty is long worn off and absolutely nobody's going to be fooled by this concept again. That said, the new film is still capable of rattling nerves. Yes, for the most part it relies on accompanying every burst of static and tap on the shoulder with the sound of cannon-fire. But there are still some genuinely scary moments, and Wingard subtly weaves in some variations from the original format... some gross-out material, some extra effects and more hands-on violence (if not out and out gore). There's also more pronounced time distortion... but nobody thought to add "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" to the soundtrack.
Okay, it's still more remake than sequel. But at least the final ten minutes or so manage to creatively enhance the predicament--at least they had me holding my breath and feeling authentic tension. And whether or not it was intentional, I loved the nod to Greek mythology in the final moments of the film. Am I reaching? Maybe. But it worked for me.
BLAIR WITCH doesn't live up to the latest "one of the scariest films of all time" hype trails. If you saw the first one, you've essentially seen this one. On the other hand, maybe you never did see the original? If that's the case, this one gets you properly up to speed and you might find it pretty darn scary.
Because it's pretty much the same movie.
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