The Blair Witch Project (1999) is considered to be one of the most innovative, polarizing, and controversial horror films to ever be made. Three teenagers embarked on a journey into the Black Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland to investigate and document the urban legend of the Blair Witch. The kids end up disappearing but someone finds their cameras and the movie is the footage.
This film sparked so much discussion when it was released because of the new-at-the-time “found footage” style of narration. People were genuinely unsure if what they were watching was real or not and some truly believed the events shown in the film happened to these teenagers. That belief is why some critics and viewers loved it but also is why some viewers hated it. Nothing really happens in the movie to stimulate fear, if one did not believe what they were watching was real – there are just a bunch of creepy noises and shaky camera work.
Fast forward 17 years and director Adam Wingard decided to pull one of the biggest marketing twists of recent years and revealed that his new movie marketed as, The Woods, was actually titled, Blair Witch.
Congrats to the Wingard and the marketing team on that one. Seriously. It was pretty brilliant and gutsy idea but unfortunately, that was the best idea the film had to offer.
Blair Witch is almost, almost, a carbon copy of the original plot. A group of teenagers (this time six instead of three) travel into the Black Woods to look for one of the member’s sister, Heather, the protagonist in the original, after a video clip surfaces showing she might still be alive.
Once in the woods, the group gets lost, members disappear, and its pitch black. That is what this film is for the first 70 minutes out of its 90-minute runtime. Nothing genuinely scary happens and that was the most frustrating aspect because it could have been so much more.
There were some instances where genuine tension and suspense was being built only to have it ruined by Wingard’s decision to use a predictable and unrealistic jump scare. No one would sneak up on a friend, in the middle of the woods, in pitch darkness, proceed to stand behind them, wait for them to turn around, and then yell their name at them when they did. Honestly.
Instead, Wingard should have instead relied on the phenomenal work his sound effects team did to get the job done. The sinister and eerie whispers that characters could make out what was being said were chilling. The subtle sounds of movement nearby created the feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped. The realistic sounds of sticks cracking and leaves rustling right outside a tent makes one hold their breath. That is the effective and well-done horror that needed to be used more.
The script was pretty poor but the actors did the most they could with the characters they played. None of them really had a captivating character arc but Callie Hernandez, who plays Lisa, gave an exceptional performance that added to the film. She consistently made the audience feel the anxiety and fear that all of the characters were experiencing through her panted breathing, whimpering, and the hesitancy of not knowing where to go.
The last 20 minutes of Blair Witch is what saves this film from being a complete disaster and is what the film should have been the entire time. When the plot finally takes off (after 70 minutes!) and deviates from the storyline of the original, Wingard shows the potential he has as a horror director by using his sound team, actors, and vision as a director, to their fullest extent. Every camera shot adds a new layer of fear and importance, every line has meaning, and the film becomes immersive.
Unfortunately, not much more detail can be given without spoiling the ending. It does make one wonder though, if Wingard had this talent all along, why did he wait so long to show the type of horror film he is capable of producing?
Maybe he wants a sequel… Hopefully not.
Rating: 55 out of 100